TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Tampa Bay-area congressman is “mad as hell” about a lack of response to a letter about unprecedented passport delays sent last month to the U.S. State Department.
Gus Bilirakis, a Republican from Florida’s 9th District, is one of 200 representatives who signed the letter that asked several questions about chronic passport problems faced by would-be travelers across the country.
“We have received no response,” Bilirakis said. “Two hundred representatives. Bipartisan. No response. Normally, it should take a couple of days. And again, I’m made as hell.”
The letter was sent May 16.
Bilirakis said his office is hearing from not only vacationers, but also many others with more vital reasons to travel.
Jose Bello, of Seminole, is among the Tampa Bay-area residents who contacted 8 On Your Side about passport delays.
He flew to a day-of passport facility in Hot Springs, Arkansas and somehow ended up with two 10-year travel documents with different numbers.
“And I couldn’t believe it,” Bello said. “I started laughing.”
Anne Bartlett, of Tampa, got turned away last week from Miami’s day-of passport facility.
She had all but given up on her plans to travel to Ireland last Sunday.
“So, are you a betting man?” she asked on Friday.
On Saturday, she won her bet when the passport arrived at the eleventh hour.
Bartlett credits a private company she hired to expedite her application, but in an interview from Ireland, she said she is concerned for anyone who needs to travel for an emergency.
“I feel really bad for them because nobody explains to you really how to do this,” Bartlett said. “And the explanations they give don’t make any sense. No one will talk to you at all about it. You have a toll-free number to call but no one answers. So, it’s very, very frustrating.”
The letter from Congress asked several questions about the online system known as OPR that was rolled out last year by the State Department as a test.
According to the letter, congressional offices across the country “have heard reports of OPR-related delays dating back to November.”
“Irresponsible,” Bilirakis said when asked about testing technology during a record year for passports. “So, they’re testing it on the backs of constituents? Again, it’s unacceptable and we’re demanding answers.”
State Department spokesman Christopher Ashcraft said Online OPR was released “as a pilot” last February and expanded to the public in August.
But he said it is now offline to “review the service and make improvements to the customer experience.”
“We expect to launch OPR to the public at the end of 2023,” Ashcraft said.
According to Ashcraft, when OPR was up and running 565,000 customers submitted their applications. Ashcraft said 99% of those cases have been completed.
Earlier this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the department is getting 500,000 passport applications a week this year.
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