It hasn't been a banner year for travelers needing a new or renewed passport. We've all heard stories about backlogged applications, endless delays (sometimes disrupting trip plans), and expedited services that took just as long as regular delivery. According to the Associated Press, Congress has launched an investigation into both the State Department and U.S. Post Office to determine if travelers were overcharged.
Specifically, federal investigators are looking into the $30 fee (a portion of the $97 overall charge for a new passport) to cover "clerks examining and accepting passport applications at post offices, State Department passport offices, courthouses, libraries, municipal offices, and universities." The costs for such examinations typically came to about $16, just a little more than half of that $30 surcharge.
Senators Byron Dorgan (D–N.D.) and Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.) have asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to determine how those extra profits were spent, what actions the government can take to correct the gouge, and if the fee should stay that high for future passport applicants.
We'll be monitoring this situation closely and will report on any future findings as they're made public. In the interim, those of you planning an overseas trip should expect to shell out the $97 fee for now.