Passport Fees Scheduled To Increase
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
If you were procrastinating on applying for a new passport, you better get moving. Starting Tuesday, the U.S. State Department will impose some pretty hefty fee hikes. That new passport that currently goes for $100 will soon cost $135. Renewing a passport will run a traveler $110, another $35 increase. Just adding more pages to a passport - something that used to be free - will cost $82.
And joining me to explain why all this happening is Brenda Sprague. She's the deputy assistant secretary for Passport Services. Thanks for coming in.
Ms. BRENDA SPRAGUE (Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services, State Department): Thank you for having me.
BLOCK: So why the fee increases?
Ms. SPRAGUE: The passport directorate, and all passport services, are funded by the fees that are collected from people who apply for passports. So we are required to do cost-of-services studies to make sure that we're recovering all the costs. We conducted one in 2009 and lo and behold, the number came up. And it was - unfortunately, required us to have an increase of the magnitude of $35.
BLOCK: Now, there is one that certainly caught my eye. It used to free if you wanted to renounce your U.S. citizenship. You could do that for free. Now, it's going to cost $450.
Ms. SPRAGUE: That's true. And it was, as we've looked around - it is a very complex project. It requires a lot of work on the part of the counselor officer. And we decided that if you're renouncing your U.S. citizenship, you should pay for that rather than having the American taxpayer pay for that service.
BLOCK: Why do you figure that the costs to the government have gone up for these services?
Ms. SPRAGUE: Well, costs for a lot of things have gone up. I can speak best about passports because, as you know, in 2007 we were caught short, and we were not able to meet the needs of the American traveling public. It caused a great inconvenience to a great many people. And the Congress asked us to make sure that that never happened again.
In addition, we are always working to improve our fraud-detection techniques. And since 9/11, that becomes even more serious.
BLOCK: There is some criticism coming from folks who say that these fees, coming as they do in tough economic times, can put an added burden on people who need to cross the border for tourism or for trade, and can really put a crimp on the economy even more.
Ms. SPRAGUE: We have certainly taken that into account. I guess the simple answer is the costs are what they are, and we recover them from the people who need the services. In addition to that, we have found - in some of the work we've done with the Gallup organization - people who need to travel are willing to invest that.
I would point out that at least for adults, passports are good for 10 years - and it's an excellent bargain even at $135. That's about $13 a year for a document that not only lets you travel, but also establishes your identity and citizenship.
BLOCK: Why would it cost - if you just want to get added pages into an existing passport, why would that cost $82?
Ms. SPRAGUE: It is a very cumbersome, labor-intensive process to get it in and make sure that it fits exactly. And when we priced it, we were a little taken aback at how costly it is. But we do have a low-cost alternative for people who travel a lot. And that is, you can request a 52-page book at no additional cost. And that will cover the needs of most people.
BLOCK: If you think you might need more pages for your passport in the future, but right now it's still pretty empty, could you send your passport in now, get the pages for free? Or does it need to be all filled up?
Ms. SPRAGUE: No, all you have to do is ask for it. If you want to send it in tomorrow and say, I want the extra pages, send it in, and you'll get it for free.
BLOCK: The new fees go into effect on Tuesday. So we should assume Monday, if there's a huge, long line at passport offices, it's people trying to get in under the wire with the old fees.
Ms. SPRAGUE: I would assume that that's the case. And of course, in addition to our passport offices - which are really just set up to handle people with emergencies - we have 9,400 postal and other acceptance agents around the country who will be open for business on Monday. Some of them may be open, even, on Saturday morning. So get out there and get your pictures and get to work, and we'll get you a passport at the lower price.
Or if you miss the deadline, we'll be happy to get you one at the higher price.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: Okay. Brenda Sprague, thanks for coming in.
Ms. SPRAGUE: Thank you.
BLOCK: Brenda Sprague is the deputy assistant secretary for Passport Services, with the State Department.
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