State Department expects long-awaited online passport renewal system to launch by fall 2022

The State Department is launching long-awaited capabilities that will allow the public to renew their passports online starting next fall.

The fall 2022 launch of these new features is the first major utility to be commissioned as part of a decade-long IT modernization project at the Ministry’s Consular Office.

A State Department official told Federal News Network that the agency “is committed to providing optimal customer service and improving its passport services to better meet the needs of American travelers.”

“We are currently testing an online passport renewal system with government employees and contractors before opening it to the public. This pilot will help us test functionality and ensure that everything works as expected before the online passport renewal is released to the public in fall 2022, ”the official said.

The new online functionality will allow travelers to avoid going to a nearby post office or passport agency. According to several reports from agency inspectors general, this capacity would also make it possible to better position the employees of the passport services for teleworking and ensure greater continuity of operations.

The ministry originally expected the online passport renewal to be launched in March 2016, according to the IG’s most recent report on the matter.

President Joe Biden specifically ordered the State Department to launch the online passport renewal capability “which does not require any physical documents to be sent by mail”, as part of the federal customer experience decree he signed on Monday.

Neera Tanden, senior advisor to the president, told reporters on a call Monday that online passport renewal capacity “would start this month and grow significantly” at a later date.

Once operational next fall, the online passport renewal platform would give the State Department more options for employees to continue processing passport applications. The agency filled far fewer passport applications in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The IG office found that the inability of passport service employees to telecommute resulted in reduced income and production. In May 2020, the department issued around 13,000 passports, a fraction of the 1.8 million passports it sent for the same month in 2019.

With the online passport renewal system unavailable, passport services staff returned to the office earlier than other State Department employees last year to cope with a backlog of applications. passport.

“Had the online passport renewal system been available, CA / PPT could have switched to remote work and retained a greater portion of incoming passport applications throughout the maximum telecommuting orders related to the COVID pandemic.” -19 in 2020, ”the IG office wrote in September.

1998 National Federation of Federal Employees president Lee Wentz told Federal News Network in July that staff shortages and the inability of employees to telecommute during the pandemic made it more difficult for passport service employees to reduce the summer backlog of passport applications.

Passport Services cleared a large backlog of passport applications in September 2020 and began issuing up to a quarter of a million passports per week in mid-December, as processing times approached its standards. before the pandemic.

This backlog, however, has recovered this summer.

Assistant Under Secretary for Passport Services Rachel Arndt told reporters in July Consular Affairs would increase staff at passport agencies across the country to deal with a backlog of as many as 2 million passport applications. .

The ministry, due to the backlog, took up to 18 weeks to process routine passport applications and up to 12 weeks to process expedited applications. In either case, the ministry allows up to six weeks for mailing.

The State Department typically processes 18 million passports per year and processes about 200,000 applications per week on average.

The pilot of the online passport renewal system, which takes place internally among agency employees and subcontractors, is now the second pilot resulting from the 10-year IT modernization project.

The ConsularOne initiative, launched in 2011, aims to modernize and consolidate the 90 IT systems of the Office of Consular Affairs.

The Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) in March 2019 launched a “very limited pilot” of a platform that would give US citizens living abroad the ability to complete an online application to report the birth of their children at the State Department for Citizenship. purposes, according to a recent report by the Inspector General.

The IG report reveals that the agency launched the pilot at six consular sites, but missed its August 2021 deadline to run a second version of the pilot at those same sites.

The agency’s IG has linked years of staffing problems to repeated delays in a decade-long modernization of the agency’s consular systems. The director of CST told the IG office that the vacant employee positions are “certainly part of the delay”.

Between December 2014 and April 2021, the IG found that the vacancy rate for civil service positions at CST varied between 28% and 39%. The IG found that the vacancy rate peaked during the ministry’s hiring freeze from January 2017 to May 2018.

The IG office estimates the department spent between $ 200 million and $ 600 million to modernize ConsularOne, but said a lack of clarity from the agency on contracts related to the project means the Watchdog was unable to determine the full cost of upgrading ConsularOne. program accurately.

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