State Department made little progress on online passport renewal the last decade

(Bureau of Consular Affairs / Facebook)

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The State Department made “virtually no progress” on two passport systems projects, one of which would allow people to renew passports online, over the last decade, according to an Office of Inspector General report released Tuesday.

OIG found that, within the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the Passport Services Directorate (CA/PPT) relies too heavily on the Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CA/CST) to manage its IT modernization initiatives.

That over-reliance delayed both the Online Passport Renewal and Next Generation Passport systems, which are part of the ConsularOne program started in 2009 and that spent $59 million on passport projects as of December 2020.

“Had the Online Passport Renewal system been available, CA/PPT could have pivoted to remote work and kept a greater portion of the incoming passport applications moving throughout the COVID-19 pandemic-related maximum telework orders in 2020,” reads the report. “However, since the system was unavailable, CA/PPT staff were required to return to the office sooner than other department employees to address the backlog of passport applications that accumulated during the pandemic’s first few months.”

Only 13,002 passports were issued in May 2020, compared to 1.8 million in May 2019, and revenue consequently dropped from $852 million to $646 million.

System objectives for both systems in the fiscal 2020-2022 Passport Services’ Strategic Plan were “essentially unchanged” from plans dating back to fiscal 2010, according to the report.

OIG found CA/CST has yet to establish a “sufficient” test environment that supports multiple scenarios for the Online Passport Renewal system. The office began with an agile development approach before reverting to a phased, sequential process.

As for the Next Generation Passport system, CA/CST struggled to develop software that could interface with new passport printers for printing more secure passports — delaying a pilot until March 2021.

While CA/CST was not part of OIG’s investigation, an investigation of the ConsularOne program was subsequently launched in the spring.

For its part, CA/PPT lacked project management processes like a collaborative performance evaluation plan, communication plan and risk management strategy. The directorate’s staff was also unfamiliar with project communication plans and didn’t document points of contact for each project, according to the report.

CA/PPT and CA/CST further failed to coordinate on interdependent project tasks and communication and planning. CA/CST couldn’t provide CA/PPT with project timelines.

As a result, OIG recommended CA implement department project management processes.

CA/PPT’s SharePoint site contained broken hyperlinks and performance award information that hadn’t been updated since 2015. And its FAQ forum, PPT Answers, hadn’t operated since 2018, so OIG recommended CA ensure content was regularly refreshed.

Lastly OIG recommended CA implement a storage process for archived advisory opinions on citizenship and passport adjudication issues, so they’d be searchable and readily retrievable.

CA concurred with all three recommendations in its July 29 response.

-In this Story-

coronavirus, Inspector General, Next Generation Passport, Online Passport Renewal, passports, State Department
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