Call Kurtis: Travelers using online system still waiting for their passports
CHICAGO (CBS) -- Spring break trips and family vacations have been ruined by government dysfunction.
For decades renewing a passport was done by mail. A new online system promised efficiency, but instead, the pilot program is leaving thousands of travelers in limbo.
CBS 2's Lauren Victory spoke with families affected by the unexpected passport delays. A Department of State spokesperson said they're meeting the processing times for the majority of cases.
That's not what you'd think reading through scathing comments on social media. It's also not what the families you're about to hear from experienced.
Winter isn't over yet. That's why the Mazzella family from Crystal Lake planned to hop on a plane to Mexico on Monday.
"Perhaps get some time at the pool. Instead, I'm here at home, having a regular evening at home," said Nicole Mazzella.
The Mahlers' south- of-the border trip also got cancelled.
"It was a beautiful week that we missed with our friends," said Ruth Mahler.
They're frustrated with the new online passport renewal system from the U.S. Department of State, after uploading pictures and information, passports were promised in six to nine weeks.
Or three to five weeks, if you paid to expedite like Ingrid Franz.
"My passport is still not here. I submitted the application online on January 19," Franz said.
That's seven weeks of waiting, and delays are affecting people across the U.S.
Jena and Brad Stusak of Atlanta aren't sure they'll be able to make their wedding anniversary trip.
"It was going to be really special because it is our 25th," Jena Stusak said.
They made a desperate plea to their congressman's office. A representative told them the "passport agency is backlogged."
"I started looking on social media. I started looking on pages and that is where my heart sank," she said.
Case after case of late passports and canceled trips, all on a cheery post about the temporary closure of the online renewal system after accepting 500,000 applications.
A more recent update from the Department of State references customers as "volunteers" that helped "test" the system. A full online rollout with improvements is expected later this year.
"They shouldn't be doing a beta and using us," Franz said.
"I was definitely a guinea pig. I would've never applied that way and I think it's shame that it's misleading," Mahler said.
Ruth Mahler from Schaumburg expected her passport by mid-February. Her status still says "in process" but her husband's passport already arrived! They applied online within minutes of each other.
The U.S. Department of State sent CBS 2 this statement:
We are committed to the President's Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government. Delivering on this promise, we began testing a secure online passport renewal (OPR) option.
· In time, OPR will save Americans time and effort, making it more convenient to renew their passports.
· We launched the limited release of OPR in February 2022 for federal government employees and contractors. In August 2022, we expanded the audience to include the public, with controlled availability on a monthly basis to allow for training of employees and to test the system. Since that time, over 500,000 customers have successfully applied online. During the limited release, we included language on our website thanking applicants for volunteering and testing our system. See archived versions of our website here: https://web.archive.org/web/20230128165531/https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/have-passport/renew-online.html.
· Based on feedback and learning from the limited releases, we continue to make improvements to optimize the user experience for renewing passports online.
· On February 7, we temporarily paused the online renewal service to new customers. This pause allows us to process existing applications submitted through OPR and continue to make improvements to the customer experience.
· While in the majority of cases, we are meeting our processing times, we understand that some customers who renewed online during our limited release are facing delays in receiving their passports.
· We are committed to working with customers directly on these issues. We will make every effort to issue a passport before there is a need to schedule an urgent travel appointment. However, individuals who applied online and have not received their passport within five days of planned should call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 to make an appointment at a passport agency.
· Customers who renew online can also pay to upgrade to expedited service or 1-2 day delivery of their completed passports. Customers can log into their accounts, click on "Manage Application," and pay for these services up until the time their applications are approved.
· The full launch of OPR is currently targeted for later in 2023.
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