THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The State Department has issued an urgent call to its diplomats worldwide to volunteer for monthlong assignments in U.S. passport offices, offering to pay their expenses if they return home and help clear a backlog of 3 million passport applications that has forced thousands of Americans to cancel trips abroad this summer.
In a cable to all Foreign Service personnel on Friday, Undersecretary of State for Management Henrietta H. Fore asked in a desperate plea for 100 diplomats with consular experience to “serve our citizens here at home” for the next two months.
“We are looking for two tranches of 50 Foreign Service officers each to staff passport-adjudication shifts, most of which will be afternoon-evening shifts,” Mrs. Fore wrote in the cable, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.
“Most volunteers will go to the National Passport Center in New Hampshire in the months of July and August. We may bring others to Washington.”
The unprecedented demand for passports resulted from a law that entered into force at the beginning of the year, requiring all American citizens to present a passport upon returning home by air from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean.
The State Department has acknowledged that it grossly underestimated the number of Americans who would need a passport.
Huge lines snake in front of passport offices across the country, and Mrs. Fore said the department receives thousands of applications a day.
Travelers got a temporary reprieve earlier this month, when the department announced that they can re-enter the country before Sept. 30 with official proof of a pending passport application, which can be printed off the department’s consular Web page, travel.state.gov.
Consular officials have said they would hire 400 additional personnel in passport offices by the end of September.
They had also asked American diplomats overseas to volunteer in those offices during their summer vacations in the United States.
But asking Foreign Service officers to pay their way back to the States and spend their vacations processing passport applications did not produce the desired result.
Now the State Department is offering to pay travel expenses and living costs for those willing to pitch in, including business-class airfare for those whose journey lasts more than 14 hours.
Thousands of Foreign Service officers are eligible for the volunteer slots because nearly all are required to do consular work at the beginning of their careers.
Mrs. Fore also asked their family members with secret security clearance to volunteer for supporting, or “nonadjudicatory,” duties in domestic passport offices.
The department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs will provide refresher training “to anyone who needs or wants it,” Mrs. Fore wrote in her cable.
The prospect of losing diplomats who often perform vital duties overseas is certain to disrupt the work of U.S. missions around the world at a time when part of their personnel changes during the regular summer-rotation cycle.
“We recognize, and accept, that there will be an impact on other services and activities,” Mrs. Fore said.
The department expects to clear the backlog by late September.