The passport application backlog has surged to about 2.2 million as a security procedure’s "operational issues" add several weeks to wait times, according to Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.
A State Department official tells Fox there are currently approximately 2,170,000 passport applications pending adjudication.
When the government receives a passport application, the file enters a "lockbox" and is given a secure number – a process that usually takes 24 hours and is now delaying applications up to six weeks, said Lankford in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The government contracts Citibank to run this procedure which the Treasury Department oversees.
"The operational delays in this key initial phase of the process are exacerbating the problems in other stages down the line," wrote Lankford. "We must address the problems at this stage by applying pressure and providing resources to Citibank to restore the turnaround time to 24 hours."
Routine service can take up to 18 weeks from the day an application is submitted to the day a new passport is received. The 18-week timeframe includes up to 12 weeks for processing and up to 6 weeks for mailing times on the front and back end.
A Citibank source says the processing delays are all COVID- and staff-related.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the agency is "surging staff," including both "both adjudicators and contractors," back into the office.
The "operational issues" are in addition to major passport staffing shortages due to the pandemic. In March 2020, the State Department dramatically reduced its passport operations to protect staff from the spreading pandemic.
Now, as Americans resume traveling internationally, those without a valid passport will likely need to delay any summer trips abroad.
"U.S. citizens who wish to travel overseas this summer and do not currently have a passport may need to make alternate travel plans," warned Rachel Arndt, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services. "We are looking at surging back to pre-pandemic staffing levels and additional staff for both government and contractor staff."
More than 150 passport processing employees are returning to 21 agencies across the country, according to the State Department. Seventeen passport agencies are bringing back all staff members and five more are "anticipating approval to move to be completely open with all staff back in the office," said Arndt.
Lankford maintains all 26 regional passport agencies "should be operating at a higher capacity than is presently happening" and is urging the State Department to return to full staffing levels within the next two weeks, as local COVID restrictions allow.
"With the worst of COVID-19 now behind us, these 26 centers should be serving the American people at full speed," wrote Lankford. He’s also pushing the State Department to "significantly scale up" in-person appointments. Arndt described last-minute, in-person appointments as "extremely limited."
The State Department said wait times for regular passports are 12 to 18 weeks. Lankford claims the processing time is up to 24 weeks. A congressional aide says the State Department has cited 18 to 24 weeks in phone briefings to Congress.
Normally, it takes four to six weeks to get a regular passport.