WASHINGTON -- The State Department has ordered about 350 young diplomats and recently employed civil servants to help clear a crushing backlog of passport applications.
The backlog has led to major processing delays and disrupted thousands of Americans' summer travel plans. Three groups of 150 employees were removed from their current posts in Washington and told to report for two months of duty at passport facilities in Louisiana and New Hampshire as the department struggles to cope with overwhelming demand, officials said. Those with pressing family commitments in the Washington area will be allowed to work at the passport production agency here.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, John Negroponte, ordered the step because drastic steps taken already to reduce the backlog of millions of applications were not working fast enough, said Patrick Kennedy, the department's management policy chief.
"The secretary and deputy secretary asked us to mobilize enough people to meet the demand and this is what we did," he said. Those chosen for the duty already have the necessary security clearances to process the applications but will undergo a week-long refresher course beginning July 9.
Many will arrive in New Orleans and in Portsmouth, N.H., the following week for the stints that end in August.
Though the State Department pays travel and accommodation expenses, plus a per diem for meals and for one long weekend break over the two months, some have grumbled about their assignments.
But Kennedy and other officials noted that foreign and civil service employees are required by law to accept temporary assignments that involve relocation. Most of those selected have been working for the State Department for fewer than five years, they said. The mobilization is just the latest in a series of measures the State Department has taken to deal with the crisis, which has prompted millions of furious complaints from US citizens and calls for investigations from irate lawmakers. The department says the wait for a new passport is now as long as three months, up from only six to eight weeks.