If you have ever traveled overseas, applied for a job or tried to open a bank account, you know that a U.S. passport is the gold standard for identification. It opens doors and it verifies identity. Recently though, a series of undercover investigations by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have shown vulnerabilities in how these passports are issued and just how well U.S. officials are able to check the validity of the documents used to obtain genuine U.S. passports.
In May 2009, I chaired a Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing about passport fraud. At the time, the GAO revealed the results of an undercover investigation that showed that terrorists or criminals who stole the identity of an American citizen and used fraudulent documents could obtain genuine U.S. passports.
I recently chaired a follow-up hearing during which I was concerned to learn that – 14 months later – while the U.S. Department of State has made some improvements – the passport issuance process is still susceptible to fraud. The GAO’s second investigation in just over a year showed, once again, that by using fraudulent identity documents -- including fake drivers’ licenses and birth certificates -- undercover investigators could obtain genuine U.S. passports.
In this instance, GAO undercover investigators used fraudulent documents to apply for seven passports, five of them were approved by the State Department and three actually were mailed out. Amazingly, four of the passport applications that were submitted used the photograph of the same GAO undercover agent, and two of the passport applications that were initially approved used Social Security numbers of deceased persons.
Protecting the authenticity of our passport process is critical to our national security and to controlling our borders and protecting our nation against terrorists and international criminals. One way we can dramatically improve our ability to detect passport fraud is by making sure that the identification documents that are used to apply for passports are real and not forgeries. We have dedicated people working at the State Department and other federal agencies, but we need to give them the tools they need to detect fraudulent identification documents before a U.S. passport is issued.
To protect our nation from the dangers of passport fraud, I have introduced the Passport Identity Verification Act. This legislation is a common-sense solution that will give the State Department the legal authority it needs to access information contained in federal, state and other databases that can be used to verify the identity of every passport applicant. In providing additional resources and legal authority, we can make it possible for our government to both protect the authenticity of the passport issuance process and issue passports in a timely manner that will not delay the travel plans of law-abiding Americans.
We cannot allow even one U.S. passport to be issued on the basis of fraudulent documents. We have the technology and the information that could prevent such issuances. We must ensure that every tool available is used to protect our national security and all Americans.