by Mark Albert
WASHINGTON (TVR) – The U.S. State Department is taking unprecedented steps to prepare for an anticipated passport surge this year, as a record number of Americans are expected to renew or apply for international travel documents.
The State Department has doubled the number of passport adjudicators and has opened more of its locations, after candidly acknowledging it failed to adequately prepare in 2007, when an “unexpected and unprecedented deluge” of applications flooded in as passports were about to become required for Americans to travel to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
“We were not ready,” Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant secretary of State for passport services, told The Voyage Report for its latest podcast episode, posted today.
“The customer service was, to put it mildly, terrible. People waited a very, very long time.”
–>RELATED: How to Sail Through Customs & Immigration
‘Determined to be Ready’
A Los Angeles Times story from 2007 described long lines forming outside passport facilities early in the mornings—”like a Rolling Stones concert,” one woman described—and 10-week waits for processing, double the normal four- to six-week delivery time.
Sprague, who has held her position in the Bureau of Consular Affairs since 2008, said the State Department now has 1,450 adjudicators and ordered each of them to work 20 hours a month of mandatory overtime to get a jump on this year’s passport surge.
In addition, the Bureau has expanded to 7,473 passport acceptance facilities nationwide, 27 passport agencies, and two passport processing centers.
“This time we were determined to be ready,” Sprague explained.
Currently, 132 million Americans hold a passport, a dramatic increase from the eight million who possessed one in 1989, according to State Department figures.
–>DEAL ALERT: 12 Money-Saving Ideas for Spring & Summer