Passport Agency’s Fraud Detection Abilities Improve, Yet Still Fall Short

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Contact: Rob Arnold

Phone: (202) 808-5755


Washington, D.C.From March to June, 2010, the GAO performed a test of the Passport Agency’s fraud-detecting abilities.  Although Passport Services performed better than a previous test (when 0 out of 4 applications were detected), the agency still approved most of the fraudulent applications that GAO attempted.  Five out of seven applications submitted with false identities were granted passports.


The Passport Agency made a great number of adjustments following last year’s GAO investigation.  The agency expended considerable managerial resources throughout 2009 in reconsidering basic assumptions about the passport adjudication process.


Out of this review emerged a new adjudication system, one more focused on the exact notations made on the application.  According to National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) Local 1998, a nation-wide unit representing Passport Agency workers in 22 Passport Offices across the country, the new approach is too cumbersome to facilitate effective fraud detection.  Passport specialists are now distracted by additional and stricter requirements for how they notate applications.  The change ensures more attention is paid to specific fields of the application, but that extra attention comes at the expense of reviewing the overall case and its citizenship evidence (which was counterfeit on all 7 GAO cases). 


Compounding the problem is the extreme time pressures that adjudicators operate under.  The agency has mandatory production quotas for each specialist.  Failing to meet these numbers in the interest of carefully reviewing citizenship documents could lead to termination.  Passport Services had wiped out the production quota in the wake of the first GAO test, but brought it back in 2010.


“The new production quota is actually lower than the one the agency used before they discontinued it,” NFFE 1998 President Rob Arnold said.  “But in bringing it back, the agency wrongly assumed that employees needed more duties performed in a more regimented manner, so we’re right back to a situation of needing adequate time.”  


Passport Services conducted a nationwide study to determine the 2010 production quota.  The study was conducted before the new adjudication system and policies were in place, and consequently produced statistics for a drastically different set of circumstances.  Passport employees, through their Union, tried to provide constructive input to Passport management officials while the adjudication process was being re-engineered; however, their participation was not welcomed by the agency.


“Passport specialists noted irregularities on three of the GAO cases,” said Arnold. “A supervisor overturned one of those three. If Passport Services would listen to their employees, the agency would have higher marks on this test.  That holds true for collective employee input, as well.”


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