‘We’re working as fast as we can.’ Passport services employees address ever-growing delays

Team 12 Investigates has been inundated with emails from frustrated customers who have been waiting 16 weeks or longer for their renewed passports.

Rachel Yonkunas

Jul 28, 2023, 9:55 PM

Updated 270 days ago


Passport delays are creating a frenzy nationwide and the workers responsible for processing the applications are scrambling to keep up with the record demand.
Team 12 Investigates talked to Lee Wentz, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) Local 1998. The union represents passport specialists, who primarily adjudicate passport applications for the entire country.
Wentz said they only have around 1,400 passport specialists working to process a record-setting number of applications. The Department of State expects to receive around 21 million applications this fiscal year. A spokesperson said they authorized 30,000 to 40,000 overtime hours each month from January through June.
“People are feeling tired, frustrated, trying to do their jobs,” said Wentz. “It's hard, right, that you're coming in every day knowing that you’re going to have to put in overtime today to get the job done or you’re going to have to come in on Saturday and work.”
For years, Wentz said the Union has advocated for better technology and more staff to help with the “fairly labor-intensive” process of adjudicating passports. Almost everything is done with a pen, paper and a computer.
“We've gone to Congress. We've gone to management,” Wentz said. “We’ve asked for a better processing system.”
State Department officials said regular processing times could take up to 13 weeks. However, Team 12 Investigates has been inundated with emails from frustrated customers who have been waiting 16 weeks or longer for their renewed passports.
We brought these concerns to the State Department. A spokesperson said their processing times do not include mail times and revealed that it could take up to 17 weeks from the time a passport agency receives the application to the time a customer receives their renewed passport in the mail.
Third-party courier companies, also known as passport expeditors, could be a solution for last-minute travelers. They can help expedite the process and cut down on wait times.
These services can be expensive, anywhere from $200 to $900 per passport application, but can often secure the sought-after in-person appointment at an acceptance facility.
“There are multiple companies throughout the U.S. that does this where we are registered to submit to the Passport Agency on the applicant’s behalf who may not be able to get an appointment or go in themselves,” said Michelle Hoyte, of EME Passports in Manhattan.
Hoyte said EME Passports has a limit on the number of applications they can submit each day, in each state. However, she adds that the company will always work with the applicant and help them navigate the overwhelming process. They can offer tips to help them get through to the passport hotline.
The Department of State advises researching the courier company diligently before handing over sensitive information and suggests checking their rating on the Better Business Bureau. If applicants cannot afford the additional fees, Wentz said people should plan to renew their passports at least six months before it expires.
“We understand that everybody's frustrated with the process and they want their passport,” Wentz said. “We're working as hard, and as fast, as we can.”

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