- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The State Department plans to expand its passport operations and hire hundreds of employees by the end of the year to prevent a recurrence of a backlog that prevented thousands of Americans from traveling abroad this summer.

“By January 2008, we will have hired hundreds of new employees, and production capacity at the National Passport Center in New Hampshire, the largest passport facility, will have doubled,” the department said.

“Longer-term expansion plans include new passport facilities strategically located to enhance customer service around the country,” it said.

The unprecedented demand for passports resulted from a law implemented this year, requiring all U.S. citizens to present a passport upon returning home by air from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean.

Huge lines snaked in front of passport offices across the country, with thousands of Americans applying every day. Processing times were up to 12 weeks. Applicants said wait times were even longer.

The State Department, which acknowledged that it grossly underestimated the number of Americans who would need passports, issued an urgent call to its personnel worldwide to volunteer for monthlong assignments in U.S. passport offices, offering to pay their expenses if they return home.

A department official said yesterday that about 400 employees had been redeployed to help with the backlog over the summer, but he could not say how many of them came from foreign posts. He added that about 50 retirees also offered their services.

Many Americans, having discovered that their passports were to expire just days before a foreign trip, were forced to delay or cancel their plans.

Travelers got a temporary reprieve in June, when the State Department announced that they could re-enter the country with official proof of a pending passport application.

But that was little consolation for Americans who had applied to renew passports so they could travel to Europe, Asia and elsewhere.

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