Since it was disclosed last week by the State Department that some contract employees were caught prying into passport information about Barack Obama and John McCain the State Department has launched an investigation. They are not the only ones investigating!
The news media has come up with the supposedly alarming fact that the Office of Passport Services, a branch of the State Department, employs approximately 2,500 contractors in different offices throughout the country. I say ‘supposedly’ alarming because, according to the State Department, these contract employees are investigated as thoroughly as any government employee so the risk of getting people with ties to criminal or anti-American organizations should be no greater than it would be if only government employees were used.
Why so many contractors? Because applications for passports have risen dramatically in the wake of the new government requirements for travelers to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean to have passports. In 2006, for example, there were 12 million passports issued; the new regulation took effect in January of 2007 and as a result in 2007 the number of passports applied for and issued grew to 18 million.
When you apply for a passport there are people, government employees or contractors, who will have access to all the information you supply on the passport application, starting with the lady or gentleman behind the counter in your local passport office, and others who will have access to the information (times, dates, etc.) that is accumulated as you use the passport in various countries around the world. The only way to get around this is to not apply for a passport and , as a result, not travel internationally.
Much more troublesome on the passport front is a series of articles in the Washington Times discussing the export of our new electronic passports overseas. Yes, there are places in Taiwan and other countries where U.S. Passports are being manufactured, using our technology and materials. There is a growing concern about the security of such operations outside of our borders and — to put the icing on the cake, also a new scandal brewing.
Here is a disturbing quote from the Washington Times article:
“The Government Printing Office’s decision to export the work has proved lucrative, allowing the agency to book more than $100 million in recent profits by charging the State Department more money for blank passports than it actually costs to make them, according to interviews with federal officials and documents obtained by The Times.
The profits have raised questions both inside the agency and in Congress because the law that created GPO as the federal government’s official printer explicitly requires the agency to break even by charging only enough to recover its costs.”
If the GPO, a government agency, can be that blatantly unethical, it begs the question: what else have they done and how might they have already impacted national security?
I guess we can put the blame for this episode on our favorite whipping boy, G.W. Bush. He is an outspoken fan of outsourcing — mainly, as the GPO can attest to, because it saves the government money. I’m a big fan of saving money but when it comes to saving it at the possible expense of National Security, as with the case of taking the manufacture of our electronic passports (those “keys” to our country’s main entrance) outside of the U.S., I would prefer to go with the lowest bidder among American owned and operated companies.
Associated Press: Passport Case Raises Outsourcing Concern
Washington Times: Outsourced passports netting govt. profits, risking national security
The Conservative Beacon: U.S. Outsources Manufacturing of Passports