FEATURE | Becoming a Passport Acceptance Facility: A Librarian’s Perspective
About the Author
MICHAEL MEISE is the Assistant Director of Library Services at the Roanoke County (VA) Public Library.
Contact Michael at email@example.com.
Michael is currently reading Charlie Mike by Joe Klein and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
The number of public and academic libraries becoming passports acceptance facilities (PAFs) is increasing exponentially. Just a few years ago, there were only a handful of libraries accepting—or, as the Passport Agency calls it—executing passport applications. Now there are 203 libraries performing this much-needed service. The Regional Passport Agency (RPA) has realized the benefits of libraries becoming PAFs and is promoting this effort by attending and presenting at various library conferences across the nation.
The role of a passport agent is to accept (or execute) the passport application and to ensure all materials needed to successfully process the application are verified. This article will discuss the process of how a library becomes a PAF, what is required to execute passport applications, the associated costs, and the impact of executing passports on staffing and workloads.
Taking The First Step
The library’s first step in becoming a PAF is to contact the appropriate RPA in their area. Identifying and contacting the RPA can be accomplished via the State Department’s website at www.travel.state.gov. Passport Services is a directorate of the Bureau of Consular Affairs within the US Department of State. Once contact is made, the library will be asked to send a letter of interest. The library will also need to complete a request-for-designation form indicating your contact information, persons to be passport agents, and the days and hours for accepting passports at the library.
The RPA will respond with an official request for a complete list of names and verification of US citizenship of those who will attend the training and ultimately become passport agents. The training is scheduled for eight hours using a PowerPoint presentation; each person being trained also gets a folder with all relevant information. There is a test at the end of the training to ensure the agent knows the procedure to correctly execute a passport application for various scenarios. The training is professionally done and very informative. Once the training is completed, the RPA will issue the library a passport acceptance facility number and each person will get assigned a passport agent number. Now the fun begins.
Once the library has been designated a PAF, it’s time to publicize this service to everyone. A news release should be sent not only to the local media but also to the school systems within the area, travel agencies, and other groups or businesses that might have an interest in this service.
Decisions to Make
Several decisions will have to be made prior to becoming a PAF. The PAF will have to determine the hours of operation and whether or not to schedule people by appointments only. Another decision is where to execute the passport applications— normally a quiet area away from the public is preferred due to privacy issues. The PAF will also have to consider the size of the room to accommodate larger families. On numerous occasions our library has had to accommodate a family of five or more. Our library provides toys and picture books for families with small children to play with or to look at during the sometimes-lengthy execution of passports. For convenience, an enlarged passport fee poster is hung in the passport area so that it can be easily seen when applicants are completing payments. Speaking of fees, the RPA authorizes PAFs to collect a $25 execution fee for each passport application accepted. The fee is set and cannot be changed by the PAF. Thus the PAF has to decide if that per application fee justifies the cost of “doing business.” Some expenses that the PAF will incur include postage for Priority Mail, photocopies made, and staff time accepting the passports, answering questions, and scheduling appointments over the phone. Answering questions over the phone can consume an enormous amount of time especially if the applicant’s situation is complex. The volume of calls and questions can be quite substantial and calls can last several minutes. Scheduling appointments and verifying applicants have everything needed averages about three minutes. The other question to ask is whether the library has the staff capacity to handle all of this. In some cases, libraries have hired part-time help, which can offset the $25 fee. However, this is a valuable public service. There is the added benefit of getting citizens into the library who might otherwise never visit.
In addition, the RPA accepts checks only; it will not accept credit cards when the passport is executed at a PAF. Even though our library accepts credit cards for payments on overdue fines, lost books, and so on, when setting up the appointment we remind the applicants that they must pay by check only. Even with this policy in place, numerous times we have had to stop the process because the applicant forgot to bring a check.
Another decision is whether to take the passport photos in-house. There can be some disagreement over this due to the logistical requirements. Some PAFs feel that the applicant should be responsible for obtaining all necessary paperwork including the passport photo and many do not want the onus of having to produce the passport photo. Other libraries do take the photos in-house. Passport-approved photos can be taken at numerous locations including CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. Libraries who decide to take photos in-house can charge what they feel is appropriate; the RPA does not set a limit.
The PAF will also need to decide whether they will charge the passport applicant for any required copies. When submitting the passport application to the RPA, the PAF is required to include a front and back copy of the applicant’s ID (usually the driver’s license); they will also need to make a copy of proof of citizenship (birth certificate) and any other supporting documentation such as name changes or naturalization papers. Our library prefers to use a color copier to ensure that a clear and accurate image is produced.
Executing a Passport
Executing the passport can be a lengthy process. If you’ve never had the “pleasure” of completing a passport application, you might think it’s as easy as filling out an application for a library card. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since the passport application is an official federal Department of State document, it must be perfect. Some have compared the complexity and required accuracy of completing the passport application to doing your taxes—there is no room for error. Based upon the difficulty of the application, executing or processing a passport can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to one hour or more. A simple execution is one in which the applicant has their DS11 filled out correctly, has their original birth certificate, has a driver’s license from the current state they live in, and has the passport-approved photo—these take fifteen minutes. If a passport applicant has a large family, with possible adoptions, a divorce, or remarriage, the application process could take up to one hour while sorting through all the required documents.
Besides executing the passport applications, another time-consuming job is completing the two separate transmittal forms—the routine transmittal form and the expedited transmittal form. Each morning, after a day of processing applications, one of the agents must enter the name of each passport applicant, date of birth, telephone number, type of passport, and associated fees onto the transmittal forms. The transmittal form is then stamped, signed, dated, and a USPS transmittal tracking number is assigned to each mailing. It is highly recommended that a second staff member review the completed transmittal form to ensure the information is correct before sealing the envelope. The original transmittal form is then sent with the passport applications in the Priority Mail envelope and a copy is maintained for two years in a secured cabinet. In addition, the PAF is required to check the USPS tracking number to ensure that the applications arrive within five business days from mailing; if they do not, the PAF must contact the RPA to determine the location of the applications.
For mailing the passport applications to the RPA, the PAF will need a large number of USPS Priority Mail envelopes because the PAF will be mailing out two separate Priority Mail envelopes each day—one envelope for mailing routine passport applications and a second envelope for mailing expedited passport applications. Luckily, Priority Mail envelopes are free at the post office. Please note, the term “expedited” means that the RPA, after receiving the passport application, will expedite the processing of it at an additional cost to the applicant of $60; it does not mean that it gets expedited via the postal system to the RPA. The PAF will have to decide whether they are willing to mail applications by overnight mail to the RPA. Two things to consider: first, is it possible for staff to leave the desk and get to the post office before they close at 5 p.m. to mail the overnight envelope, and second, is the PAF willing to absorb the cost of overnight mailing of the applications? You cannot charge the applicant any additional fees for overnight mailing to the RPA; however, the RPA does offer a return overnight mailing for $20.66, so applicants can request their completed passport books be mailed to them via overnight mail. Those applicants that are leaving on trips in the near future will want to use both the expedited and overnight service. If applicants are leaving on trips within two weeks, they are required to hand-carry their application to the RPA to have their applications executed. Processing times are kept current on the State Department’s Passport website and should be checked regularly.
The PAF will also need a lockable cabinet to secure copies of the transmittal forms. These must be kept for two years. A dedicated computer at the desk where the passport applications are executed will allow the agent to enter the information into the transmittal form so that it is ready to review and mail the next morning. However, sometimes the information cannot be entered at that moment and we have found that numerous times the applicant’s information needs to be entered the following morning.
In summary, the PAF can be a beneficial service to its citizen. As a passport agent, you have to verify that the photograph is a true likeness of the applicant, screen evidence of US citizenship, record the identification documentation presented on the application, review the application to verify all required information has been provided, collect the required passport fees, give the oath to the applicant and witness their signature, sign your name and affix your PAF’s authorized stamp on the application, ensure that all documents are handled and stored securely, and mail passport applications using traceable mail. Although the library receives a $25 processing fee per passport applicant, the number of staff, the time this service takes, and the staff’s current and future workload must be considered to determine if becoming a PAF is financially sound and able to be done with current staffing levels.
Since we began executing passports in August 2015, the library has received a lot of positive feedback from our citizens for offering this service. Prior to the library executing passports, the only other places within the Roanoke Valley that offered passport services were the post office and the court system; neither have evening and weekend hours for the convenience of the citizen. Better hours are probably one of the biggest benefits to our citizens. In addition, executing passports has helped bring citizens into the library that otherwise would not visit the library; continues to strengthen the library’s positive image within the community; and reinforces the message that libraries are community centers that offer a wide variety of services.