'State Department must overhaul passport application process'

The US State Department insisted Friday it can handle the growing demand for passports, despite congressional investigators' findings that the agency has not overhauled the system to avoid repeating last year's backlog fiasco. The State Department has not developed a "comprehensive, long-term strategy" to modernize its passport application process, according to a report issued Friday by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Lawmakers had requested an investigation into the backlog that swamped passport offices last yar, the result of an unprecedented 18 million applications. The high demand was spurred in part by new US travel rules. "The 2007 surge in passport demand exposed serious deficiencies in State's passport issuance process," the report found. "Passport wait times reached record highs, leading to inconvenience and frustration for many thousands of Americans." The department "needs to rethink its entire end-to-end passport issuance process, including each of the entities involved in issuing a passport, and develop a formal strategy for prioritizing and implementing improvements to this process," according to the investigators.