State Dept. IT modernization delays go away passport expert services staff unable to telework

The State Department’s minimal development with an IT modernization effort that began a lot more than a decade ago left most passport products and services employees not able to telework during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to its inspector general’s office.

The IG’s office, in a report Tuesday, observed the department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs used more than $59 million on passport-associated IT modernization initiatives over the previous 10 years, but delays with the On the web Passport Renewal procedure and similar courses forced Passport Expert services Directorate (CA/PPT) personnel to go on working in a mostly paper-centered environment not suited for telework.

“Had the On the internet Passport Renewal process been accessible, CA/PPT could have pivoted to remote do the job and held a bigger part of the incoming passport apps moving all over the COVID-19 pandemic-similar utmost telework orders in 2020,” auditors wrote in the report.

Since the On-line Passport Renewal system was unavailable, Passport Providers personnel returned to the place of work sooner than other Condition Division personnel very last calendar year, in order to deal with a backlog of passport applications. That backlog, however, crept back again up this summer season.

The IG report underscores frustrations from the Nationwide Federation of Federal Staff Regional 1998, which represents passport products and services staff.

NFFE Regional 1998 President Lee Wentz stated in July that staffing shortages and an lack of ability for workforce to telework throughout the pandemic produced it much more complicated to chip absent at summertime backlogs of passport purposes.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services Rachel Arndt informed reporters this summer months Consular Affairs would surge staffing at passport businesses across the region to offer with a backlog of as quite a few as 2 million passport applications.

The IG office uncovered an lack of ability for Passport Companies workers to telework led to a reduction in profits and output. The section in May well 2020 issued about 13,000 passports, a fraction of the 1.8 million passports it sent out for the similar thirty day period in 2019.

Citing a decline in rate revenues, Passport Products and services Directorate slash its fiscal 2021 spending plan ask for by almost a quarter, down to $646 million.

Passport Providers removed a massive passport application backlog by September 2020, and begun issuing as many as a quarter-million passports per week by mid-December, as processing situations approached its pre-pandemic expectations.

The Point out Section typically procedures 18 million passports a yr and handles about 200,000 apps in an regular week.

Arndt stated telework isn’t an option, simply because passport services get the job done calls for connectivity to systems and databases that are only accessible inside department services. But the IG report located passport products and services staff members could not telework simply because of delays in the extensive-time period IT modernization technique.

The Office environment of Consular Methods and Know-how (CST) launched a bureau-broad IT modernization initiative in 2009, aimed at updating, consolidating or replacing far more than 90 devices.

The IT modernization drive also bundled standing up Online Passport Renewal and Up coming Generation Passport units for Passport Providers.

But much more than a 10 years later, the IG observed little development on modernization projects geared toward Passport Providers.

Auditors identified targets outlined in Passport Services’ strategic prepare for fiscal years 2020-2022 have been “essentially unchanged” from strategies dating back to 2010, “underscoring that virtually no progress experienced been obtained on these initiatives for the duration of the past 10 years.”

Passport Solutions staff instructed the IG business that CST started development perform with an agile computer software improvement approach, targeted on continual development and tests.

Having said that, software package developers made the decision that an agile method would not do the job for the On line Passport Renewal Technique, “and so returned to a phased, sequential system of software advancement,” employees advised OIG. “As a outcome, item development and tests happened at a a lot slower rate.”

As for the  Following Era Passport procedure, Passport Solutions personnel instructed the IG workplace that the devices used to print passports is achieving the stop of its everyday living, but CST ran into delays in building the computer software expected to interface with new printers, which would print current and more secure passports.

Auditors said this software hold off has led to many delays of the Subsequent Era Passport pilot, which lastly introduced in March 2021.

Passport Provider has official onboarding packages for new hires, but the IG office environment uncovered inconsistencies in the high-quality of staff orientations. Personnel informed auditors that they were being brought up to speed via on-the-career coaching and informal consultations with supervisors, co-personnel and division chiefs.

“As a consequence of this inconsistency, freshly hired employees’ acclimatization to their positions and CA/PPT was delayed and necessary staff members to count disproportionately on the availability and goodwill of personal supervisors or far more skilled colleagues,” the report states.

Arndt explained to the IG’s office environment she agreed with its recommendations, which includes utilizing project administration procedures for Passport Services’ IT modernization initiatives.