The passport application backlog has surged to 2.2 million as a security procedure’s “operational issues” add several weeks to wait times, according to Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.
When the government receives a passport application, the file enters a “lockbox” and is given a secure number – a process that usually takes 24 hours and is now delaying applications up to six weeks, said Lankford in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The government contracts Citibank to run this procedure which the Treasury Department oversees.
“The operational delays in this key initial phase of the process are exacerbating the problems in other stages down the line,” wrote Lankford. “We must address the problems at this stage by applying pressure and providing resources to Citibank to restore the turnaround time to 24 hours.”
A Citibank source says the processing delays are all COVID- and staff-related. The State Department offered no comment on the lockbox problems. The “operational issues” are in addition to major passport staffing shortages due to the pandemic. In March, 2020, the State Department dramatically reduced its passport operations to protect staff from the spreading pandemic.
Now, as Americans resume traveling internationally, those without a valid passport will likely need to delay any summer trips abroad. “U.S. citizens who wish to travel overseas this summer and do not currently have a passport may need to make alternate travel plans,” warned Rachel Arndt, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services. “We are looking at surging back to pre-pandemic staffing levels and additional staff for both government and contractor staff.”