A congressional oversight agency has released a report blaming lax oversight by the U.S. State Department for allowing criminals, illegal immigrants and suspected terrorists to obtain U.S. passports.
The report by the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, concludes that the State Department has not regularly checked passport applications against lists of wanted criminals and suspected terrorists.
At a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the GAO's director of international affairs and trade, Jess Ford, cited a number of challenges to the State Department's passport fraud detection effort, including information-sharing deficiencies, insufficient fraud prevention training, staffing, oversight and investigative resources.
"Specifically, the State Department does not currently receive information on U.S. citizens listed in the terrorist screening center data base, which is the federal government's consolidated terrorist watch list. Nor does the State Department routinely obtain information from the FBI on the names wanted on both federal and state law enforcement authority warrants," Mr. Ford says. "Therefore, many of these individuals are not listed in the State Department's consular look-out and support system name-check data base for passports, and they could obtain passports and travel internationally with the knowledge of appropriate authorities."
Mr. Ford said identity theft is the main tactic used by individuals who fraudulently apply for U.S. passports, including the use of other people's legitimate birth records.
Committee chairwoman Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, expressed alarm at the report.
"Protecting the integrity of the U.S. passport is essential to protecting our citizens from those who would do us harm, whether they are terrorists or other criminals," Ms. Collins says.
The deputy assistant secretary of State for Passport Services at the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Frank Moss, said the State Department is taking steps to expand the crosschecking of passport applications against more complete lists of suspected criminals and terrorists.
"Today we have nearly 50,000 names of fugitives or other persons of interest to law enforcement in the passport look-out system. Half of those names were made as a result of our outreach efforts, the other half are a result of transfers from the U.S. Marshals Service on persons subject to federal fugitive warrants," Mr. Moss says.
Mr. Moss also said his office is working closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.