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With Integrity of U.S. Passport in Jeopardy, Passport Workers Look to State for Answers

Thursday, July 31, 2008
 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Colin Walle, NFFE Local 1998 President

Phone: (425) 984-4106

 

Washington, D.C. - The National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), the federal union representing Passport Agency workers, is demanding the Department of State confirm that U.S. Passport applications will be accepted and executed solely by federal workers sworn under oath.

 

Concerns were raised by NFFE Local 1998 President Colin Walle, when the Department of State failed to explicitly include the acceptance and verification duty of Passport Agents as “inherently governmental,” or solely a function of the government and its employees, in its recent 2007 FAIR report. Without such a distinction, this function can be contracted out to private companies whose employees are bound by neither oath nor creed, seriously endangering the integrity of U.S. Passports and increasing vastly the potential for fraud.

 

“In failing to classify Passport Agents as ‘inherently governmental,’ it appears that the State Department may be laying the groundwork to permanently privatize the passport function,” said Walle.

 

It was the Department of State’s own longstanding policy that the acceptance agent function must be performed by government workers only.  The Department suddenly reversed this policy in June 2007, under pressure to reduce a massive backlog of applications – a backlog created by the Department’s own inadequate planning, according to a July 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). “This policy reversal has serious repercussions for the security of our nation,” said Walle. “Without the extensive training and know-how of federal employees, dangerous criminals – even terrorists – can slip through the cracks of the application process undetected.”

 

A 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Passport and Visa Security concluded that despite recent technological advances, more must be done in order to reduce incidences of fraud. Most often, fraud occurs when applicants submit genuine identification documents obtained under assumed identities. In 2006 alone, this method accounted for nearly 65 percent of a total 3,703 confirmed passport fraud cases investigated by State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

 

In the February 2008 edition of the Passport Agent’s Reference Guide, the Department itself emphasized that, “The Acceptance Agent is the most important person in determining the legitimate identity of the vast majority of customers.” It is of our opinion, and professed State Department policy, that only those with the requisite experience and understanding of the application process should perform this duty.

 

Said Walle, “We believe that accepting and executing passport applications meets the legal test of an ‘inherently governmental function’, but really it is common sense that a task so essential to ensuring the integrity of the passport be assigned to those who have sworn an oath of dedication to that end.”

 

Link to NFFE appeal to State Department: http://www.nffe.org/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/6009

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Established in 1917, the National Federation of Federal Employees is the oldest union representing civil service federal employees.  NFFE currently represents 100,000 federal employees government-wide and is the sole union representing Passport Agency workers.  NFFE is affiliated with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

 

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