State Department:

Improvements Needed to Strengthen U.S. Passport Fraud Detection Efforts

GAO-05-477: Published: May 20, 2005. Publicly Released: Jun 29, 2005.

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Maintaining the integrity of the U.S. passport is essential to the State Department's efforts to protect U.S. citizens from terrorists, criminals, and others. State issued about 8.8 million passports in fiscal year 2004. During the same year, State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security arrested about 500 individuals for passport fraud, and about 300 persons were convicted. Passport fraud is often intended to facilitate other crimes, including illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and alien smuggling. GAO examined (1) how passport fraud is committed, (2) what key fraud detection challenges State faces, and (3) what effect new passport examiner performance standards could have on fraud detection.

Using the stolen identities of U.S. citizens is the primary method of those fraudulently applying for U.S. passports. False claims of lost, stolen, or damaged passports and child substitution are among the other tactics used. Fraudulently obtained passports can help criminals conceal their activities and travel with less scrutiny. Concerns exist that they could also be used to help facilitate terrorism. State faces a number of challenges to its passport fraud detection efforts, and these challenges make it more difficult to protect U.S. citizens from terrorists, criminals, and others. Information on U.S. citizens listed in the federal government's consolidated terrorist watch list is not systematically provided to State. Moreover, State does not routinely obtain from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) the names of other individuals wanted by federal and state law enforcement authorities. We tested the names of 67 federal and state fugitives and found that 37, over half, were not in State's Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) database for passports. One of those not included was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. State does not maintain a centralized and up-to-date fraud prevention library, hindering information sharing within State. Fraud prevention staffing reductions and interoffice workload transfers resulted in fewer fraud referrals at some offices, and insufficient training, oversight, and investigative resources also hinder fraud detection efforts. Any effect that new passport examiner performance standards may have on State's fraud detection efforts is unclear because State continues to adjust the standards. State began implementing the new standards in January 2004 to make work processes and performance expectations more uniform nationwide. Passport examiner union representatives expressed concern that new numerical production quotas may require examiners to "shortcut" fraud detection efforts. However, in response to union and examiner concerns, State eased the production standards during 2004 and made a number of other modifications and compromises.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve the coordination and execution of passport fraud detection efforts, the Secretary of State should establish a core curriculum and ongoing fraud prevention training requirements for all passport examiners, and program adequate time for such training into the staffing and assignment processes at passport-issuing offices.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State said that in response to our recommendation Passport Service's headquarters staff was working with Fraud Prevention Managers to establish a uniform fraud prevention training program. Under this program, Fraud Prevention Managers are to provide training at least monthly to passport specialists and that the dates and focus of this training are to be reported in the Fraud Prevention Manager's monthly reports.

    Recommendation: To improve the coordination and execution of passport fraud detection efforts, the Secretary of State should assess the extent to which and reasons why workload transfers from one domestic passport-issuing office to another were, in some cases, associated with fewer fraud referrals, and take any corrective action that may be necessary.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: State said that, in theory, having applications from one region of the country adjudicated in another region may result in missed opportunities to identify fraud because of a lack of familiarity with citizenship evidence from the originating region. However, State said it believes that the best way to address this reality is its program to select highly skilled Fraud Prevention Managers, rotate its senior Passport Specialists through the Fraud Prevention Manager's office so they can then assist and better train their staff, and centrally train all of its newly hired assistants.

    Recommendation: To improve the coordination and execution of passport fraud detection efforts, the Secretary of State should consider designating additional positions for fraud prevention coordination and training in some domestic passport-issuing offices.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State said in September 2005 that in response to our recommendation it had established a second, full-time Fraud Prevention Manager position at both the National Passport Center and the Charleston Passport Center and had been in the process of hiring a second Fraud Prevention Manager for the New Orleans Passport Office prior to Hurricane Katrina. In addition, the Department said it would evaluate the workload of the medium and smaller passport agencies to determine whether there is a basis for establishing additional positions.

    Recommendation: To improve the coordination and execution of passport fraud detection efforts, the Secretary of State should establish and maintain a centralized and up-to-date electronic fraud prevention library that would enable passport agency personnel at different locations across the United States to efficiently access and share fraud prevention information and tools.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State said in September 2005 that in response to our recommendation it is developing a "Knowledge Base" on-line library that will be a "gateway" to passport information, anti-fraud information, and relevant databases. All passport field agencies and centers can use this system to submit anti-fraud information such as exemplars of genuine and malafide documents, fraud trends in their respective regions, and other information that will be instantly available throughout the department.

    Recommendation: To improve the coordination and execution of passport fraud detection efforts, the Secretary of State should expedite, in consultation with the U.S. Attorney General, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Secretary of Homeland Security, arrangements to enhance interagency information sharing, and reach agreement on a plan and timetable for doing so, to ensure that State's CLASS system for passports contains a more comprehensive list of individuals identified in the Terrorist Screening Center database as well as state and federal fugitives and that such information is made available to State in an efficient and timely manner.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The State Department said that it agreed with GAO that TSC information should be included in Passport CLASS. At a congressional hearing on June 29, 2005, a State official said that State had signed an agreement with TSC the previous evening that will provide information on American citizens of concern to the TSC, which became operational on July 25, 2005. State also said that it had an agreement in principle with the FBI to provide additional names of federal fugitives and is continuing to work with the FBI and the U. S. Marshalls Service to establish an automated mechanism through which it can integrate a comprehensive database of state warrants information into CLASS. In July 2005, the FBI gave State the names of 7,000 individuals with outstanding felony warrants, which have been incorporated into Passport CLASS. State added that it is working with the FBI to determine which of the remaining 1.2 million names in its National Crime Information Center database regarding persons subject to state or local warrants should be added to passport CLASS. State further added that it is continuing to solicit and receive want and warrant information from state and local law enforcement officials.

    Recommendation: To improve the coordination and execution of passport fraud detection efforts, the Secretary of State should strengthen fraud prevention training efforts and oversight of passport acceptance agents.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State said that it was adapting a computer-based modular, interactive training program developed by State and the U. S. Postal Service for the Passport Service's acceptance agents. State is also updating its Travel Document Issuance System so it can track accepted passport applications by acceptance agent facility, which State says will allow it to identify what caused a facility's applications to be delayed due to missing information and/or inaccurate documentation. State added that senior Department managers will review all facets of the acceptance agent program to identify opportunities for additional fraud controls and oversight.

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