These days, the offices of Maryland members of congress are flooded with calls from residents asking about their passports.
Rep. David Trone, who represents Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, said his team has been working around the clock to ensure Marylanders are provided their passports on time.
“To say passports are at the forefront of our constituent service cases right now would be an understatement,” said Sasha Galbreath, Trone’s communications director.
Last year, residents in Trone’s district submitted a total of 282 passport cases. This year, the caseload has more than doubled, and Trone’s office is still getting about 40-50 cases a week, Galbreath said.
“Our Passport Agency is doing their best, but they are completely inundated with a post-COVID travel boom. We will always step up and step in to help our constituents with federal agencies — it’s what we’re here for,” Trone said in an emailed statement.
The U.S. State Department, which issues passports, said 46% of Americans have been issued copies of the certified documents required for international travel. But the agency is receiving approximately 400,000 applications each week and is expected to issue more than 22 million passports this year.
Current processing times are between 10-13 weeks for routine processing and seven to nine weeks for expedited processing, not including mailing times, which could add another two weeks before Marylanders receive their passports in hand.
Summer air travel is expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels, the Transportation Security Administration has said. And according to a bipartisan letter from Congress to the State Department, the rollout of a new online renewal system has not yet been built to support the influx of incoming applications, and is also contributing to delays.
In a recent tweet, Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, who serves Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, urged his followers to get their passport applications in as soon as possible, but especially if individuals have travel plans for the rest of this year or early next year.
Swamped with requests post-COVID, State Department staff are working tens of thousands of hours of overtime a month. For the first half of the year, the agency authorized between 30,000 and 40,000 overtime hours each month, according to a State Department spokesperson.
“We cannot yet project when processing times will decrease, but anticipate that processing times will gradually decrease throughout the year as we work toward our goal of returning to pre-pandemic processing by the conclusion of 2023,” the spokesperson wrote in a statement.
Jaime Lennon, a spokesperson for Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, for Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District, said the congressman is working on fudning for the State Department in fiscal year 2024 that would add an additional $275 million to help resolve this delays.
As for Rep. Kweisi Mfume, his office in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District has noticed a backlog at the National Passport Processing Center. Passport renewal applications are mailed to a P.O. Box in Philadelphia. The applications are then retrieved from the post office box by a passport representative and taken to a central facility, where payment is processed and then the application is assigned and sent to a passport agency or center.
“The issue we are seeing is that some applications being retrieved from this facility are being untouched for months,” said Ryan Lawrence, Mfume’s press secretary.
Congressional inquiries have been at an all time high, according to May 16 letter to the State Department signed by 180 members of Congress, including Maryland Reps. Andy Harris (R), Steny Hoyer (D), and John Sarbanes, alongside Trone and Raskin.
In April, calls jumped to one to two dozen per day, a spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin said.
From Jan. 1 to July 12, Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s office has worked on 1,430 cases related to passports. By comparison, the total was 509 for the same time period in 2022.
“I’ve repeatedly pressed the State Department to make changes to prevent these kinds of backlogs in the future, and I’m working to unlock more resources for the agencies to devote to passport processing and customer service,” Van Hollen said in an emailed statement.
The State Department said that travelers should remember that some countries require that a passport be valid at least six months beyond the dates of their trip.
“U.S. citizens are returning to international travel and connecting with the world in droves. ... We are committed to transparency and will continue to provide regular updates about passport processing times, and to encourage Americans to apply for their passport well in advance of any planned international travel,” a State Department spokesperson wrote in a statement to The Banner.