Why Can’t We Renew Passports Online Anymore?

by SharonKurheg

In December 2021, President Biden signed an executive order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government. I don’t know how much it would actually rebuild some people’s trust in the government, LOL, but the plan was to bring important government agencies into the digital era while simultaneously decreasing the red tape for a bunch of services, including passport renewals.

How refreshing would that be?

Anyway, we all know that change happens slowly. That’s especially true when a dinosaur of a government wrapped in tight red tape and a bunch of people who don’t always agree on the “best” way to do things is around. So it was a pleasant surprise when the pilot program for renewing passports online went live in April 2022. It was initially only open to federal employees and contractors – they were acting as the guinea pigs, of course, to see if they could “break” the system or if it did well.

Pilot program

That initial program was only open for 2 months – they shut it down in June 2022. But it must have done well because in August of that SAME YEAR (be still my heart!), it opened to the general public. It was still a pilot program, and you had to meet certain criteria to use the system:

  • Your most recent passport was valid for 10 years.
  • That passport was issued between nine and 15 years previous.
  • You were 25 years old or older.
  • You weren’t changing your name, gender, date of birth, or place of birth.
  • You weren’t traveling out of the country for at least six weeks from when you submitted your application.
  • You were applying for a regular tourist passport.
  • You lived in the U.S.

But still, it was open!

“We are committed to the President’s Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government,” a spokesperson for the State Department said. “Delivering on this promise, we are working toward providing a secure online passport renewal option. Our new online system will save Americans money, time, and effort, making it much more convenient to renew their passports.”

500,000+ applicants

All told, over 500,000 people participated in the pilot program to renew their passports online. It had generally positive reviews, although some said the system needed a little work.

Program paused again

On March 8, 2023, the pilot program was paused. A statement on the State Department’s website said the online renewal service trial was paused in order to “introduce improvements based on customer feedback.” The website also says, “We look forward to launching the enhanced application in a full, nationwide release.” They give no clue of when that will happen, even though it’s been well over a year since they closed down the system.

From travel.state.gov:

a screenshot of a computerSo now what?

For now? We wait.

Happily, renewing a passport has returned to pre-pandemic speeds, with routine processing taking 6-8 weeks and expedited taking 2-3 (and they always like to remind you that those times don’t include mailing time).

But that’s no excuse for the program to not be online permanently by now. To that end, about 200 members of Congress signed a letter that was sent to the Bureau of Consular Affairs in May 2023, where they asked for more transparency on the matter. And…nothing yet.

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