Joel Mowbray

During a contentious Senate hearing last week, State Department consular chief Maura Harty took personal responsibility for the backlog of two million passport applications—leading to wait times of 12 weeks or more—that has wreaked havoc on honeymoons, family getaways, and business trips.

She was hailed by many for her contrite performance. Unfortunately, though Harty was apologetic, she was not entirely honest. Not only that, the Senate did not learn the full extent of her personal culpability in creating the passport mess with a series of blunders.

And on the heels of creating a backlog of two million passport applications and then misleading Congress about it, Harty is poised for a promotion. Unless the White House acts to stop it, Harty could soon ascend to one of the top positions at the State Department.

How the crisis really happened

The State Department’s public line is that the new rules requiring passports for most Western Hemisphere air travel caused a surge in applications, and Harty’s office relied on a private consulting firm’s estimate of 16.2 million passport applications this year—a number that proved too low by roughly 1.5 million.

The reality, however, is that following the private consulting study, provided by BearingPoint, would have lead to slightly overestimating the number of passport seekers.

When questioned at the hearing about how she could have missed the mark so badly, Harty tried to shift the blame, responding, “[W]e predicted 16.2 million based on our study with BearingPoint.”

The BearingPoint study, however, did not produce the 16.2 million figure; Harty and her staff did. The results of the report, in fact, would have lead to a calculation of approximately 18 million applications this fiscal year—just slightly over the number expected to be filed.

State’s and DHS’s interpretation of the BearingPoint study—which estimated only the number of people who would apply for a passport to comply with the new travel rules—was that 4.1 million travelers would do so in the first year. That figure would only result in a total of 16.2 million if the number of people seeking passports would otherwise stay flat from last year. But that would ignore entirely recent history.

Since 2003, passports have been a growth business, with applications rising by an average of 18% annually between that year and 2006. And that 18% yearly increase was before the implementation this January of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

Be the first to read Joel Mowbray's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.