Center Working Three Shifts to Catch Up on Backlog of Passport Requests
Portsmouth, NH - Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter visited the National Passport Center in Portsmouth today to speak with officials and tour the facility. Record numbers of passport requests as a result of new border security requirements have caused backlogs of more than 8 to 10 weeks, forcing many people to alter or delay their summer travel plans.
Earlier this year, new rules requiring passports for travel between the United States and Canada began to go into effect as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). Under the rules, which have been temporarily suspended by the Bush Administration due to the extended processing delays, passports are required for all American citizens returning to the US by air from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. By the first part of 2008, passports may be required for all land and sea travel as well.
"We need to do a better job of securing our borders and keeping track of who comes in to our country, but the new requirements under WHTI have caused more problems than they have solved," said Congresswoman Shea-Porter. "For example, a family of four who wants to fly to Canada now has to pay nearly $400 and wait up to two and a half months for their passports."
One of the immediate side-effects of the new travel rules was an unprecedented jump in the number of passport applications. This led to significant backlogs and delays as passport centers across the country struggled to keep pace with the demand. As the largest processing facility, the National Passport Center in Portsmouth shouldered much of that increased burden taking in not only its normal workload, but also handling overflow passport applications from the thirteen regional passport centers.
To deal with the increased volume, the National Passport Center has doubled the size of its workforce since this time last year, bringing the total staff to approximately 650, and has added 95 employees in the last two months alone. The Center is currently working three shifts and, in March, processed a record 506,125 passports.
During her visit, Congresswoman Shea-Porter met with Tyrone Shelton, the Director of the Center, to discuss the situation as well as the steps that are being taken to help reduce delays. She also took a tour of the facility, spoke with managers of each department, and thanked the employees for their hard work.
"The people at the National Passport Center have been doing an absolutely incredible job working to catch up on the mountain of requests," continued Shea-Porter. "It's also important to understand that the backlog isn't their fault - it was forced upon them by the new travel requirements."
Shea-Porter has been actively involved in attempting to remedy this situation, working towards legislative solutions in Washington as well as assisting constituents in New Hampshire. Earlier this year, she cosponsored legislation to delay the implementation of the WHTI passport requirements and to force the Department of Homeland Security to develop alternatives for frequent travelers. Many of that bill's provisions were passed by the House last month as part of the 2008 Homeland Security Appropriation. The House additionally voted to prohibit DHS from implementing the land and sea passport requirement until June 2008.
Shea-Porter's offices in Manchester and Dover have also been helping constituents to expedite their passport applications. So far this year, they have worked with over 120 people to ensure that their passports arrived in time.
"My office has been working closely with the National Passport Center alleviate these problems. We're doing everything we can to make sure that no one has to miss a honeymoon or anniversary because their passport isn't ready," Shea-Porter added.
Although National Passport Center officials are planning to have much of the backlog resolved by September, both Shea-Porter's office and the State Department are urging everyone to plan ahead and apply for passports as early as possible. Anyone needing to expedite a passport application may contact the district offices of Congresswoman Shea-Porter for assistance.
33 Lowell Street
Manchester, NH 03101
Phone: (603) 641-9536
Fax: (603) 641-9561
104 Washington Street
Dover, NH 03820
Phone: (603) 743-4813
Fax: (603) 743-5956