Issa says passport reform ‘long overdue’ as bill moves through House committee with bipartisan backing

Legislation that would overhaul the passport processing system in order to clear out a massive backlog facing Americans has passed through a top committee with unanimous support, with the bill’s author saying it now has a good chance of becoming law early next year.

The Passport System Reform and Backlog Prevention Act, which aims to reduce processing times for passports, was approved unanimously by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, with both Democrats and Republicans voting in favor.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told Fox News Digital he now hopes the bill will make its way to the president’s desk in early 2024.

GOP LAWMAKERS WANT TO ELIMINATE PASSPORT BACKLOG WITH SWEEPING REFORM BILL

“It’s long overdue, but we took the time to get it right that we could get a unanimous vote,” he said.

“You’re never without being surprised when you get unanimous, even on something that one would think was non-controversial.”

Americans have been facing lengthy passport processing delays since the COVID-19 pandemic, with the State Department currently timing delays at around seven to 10 weeks. The bill aims to bring processing to the level of other countries, where delays are shorter and there is greater online functionality.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers this year that during the COVID-19 pandemic, “the bottom basically dropped out of the system” at the department for handling both passports and visas due to travel demand plummeting, and the agency is still rebuilding while trying to keep up with the enormous surge in demand.

The bill aims to reduce renewal times to within 30 days, in part by the federal government using technology and best practices. To achieve this, it not only sets standards for the government but also allows the State Department to hire dozens of personal service contractors in each of fiscal years 2024-2026 for consular affairs.

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The targets set include those related to cybersecurity, affordability, customer service and geographic accessibility. The bill also requires within two years the creation of a dashboard to allow congressional staff to track casework for their constituents, a system of communication for citizens to receive email and text alerts about the status of their passport renewal and an app for those communications. Within four years, it would require an internet-based submission system for first-time passports and additional software to adjudicate low-risk renewals.

The legislation would also require the Government Accountability Office to review the passport issuance process and see where additional improvements could be made, including possible collaboration with other agencies.

Since the bill’s introduction, Issa’s office said that there have been some changes related to timelines and requirements in order to help garner additional support from Democrats, but the overall aim of the legislation remains the same.

Issa said that the bill could either be passed on its own or attached to a larger piece of legislation, but he said that he will be working to make sure it gets through the Congress — including the upper chamber — without taking anything for granted.

“We know of no opposition per se in the Senate, but I’ll be working with all of the offices to see if there is any and, if there is, to head it off,” he said. “We think that’s the best path to a quick delivery to the president’s desk.”

The movement forward of the bill comes at a time when Republicans and Democrats are frequently struggling to find things to agree on, and Issa said that makes victories like this all the more important.

“Doing the right thing never goes out of fashion, and at a time when there is so little to come together on, these kinds of legislation are particularly important,” he said.

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