RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR's Pam Fessler reports.
PAM FESSLER: Lawmakers can still hardly contain themselves when it comes to all the complaints they've heard about passport delays. Florida Senator Bill Nelson said just this week, his office helped a 78-year-old constituent who was told she had to drive seven hours to Miami and get in line at 4:00 a.m. to get her passport.
INSKEEP: It is something that has caused a great deal of consternation. Some people have been waiting as long as five months for a passport. We've got to get this straightened out.
FESSLER: Nelson was addressing Assistant Secretary of State Maura Harty, who was on Capitol Hill yesterday to explain what went wrong.
MONTAGNE: We simply did not foresee 5.4 million people applying in three months time.
FESSLER: She said applications were much higher than projected for the start of the year. That's when new rules went into effect, requiring passports for all air travel between the United States and Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. But Hardy said the numbers also grew because people realized in a post-9/11 world, that a passport is something they're going to need as a reliable form of ID.
MONTAGNE: We're seeing an incredible number of people who are indicating that they have no travel plans. I think in some ways, we drummed up business, and more business than we had anticipated.
INSKEEP: Okay now...
MONTAGNE: It was a mistake.
FESSLER: Nelson and others said even so, more should have been done. And now they're worried about what's going to happen if the administration moves forward with plans to require passports for all land crossings from Canada and Mexico starting next January. George Voinovich is an Ohio Republican.
INSKEEP: The words getting all over the place - you need a passport. So in addition to the ones that are traditionally going to come in and say I need it to fly, you're going to have an avalanche of people that are going to be wanting these passports by January 1st of next year because they've been told that they have to have it.
FESSLER: Harty says she's hiring and training more people to handle the load, but she also said the administration will propose that passport requirements for land travel be phased in over the next year instead of taking effect all at once.
MONTAGNE: Which will demonstrate that we have heard you and have heard your constituents. As a result, that rule, as introduced, will be very flexible.
FESSLER: Not that the administration has much choice. The House voted overwhelmingly last week to delay the new passport rules for land travel until June of 2009, and the Senate appears headed in the same direction. Still, the Bush administration wants to get the rules in place next year. Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke says tighter passport requirements are crucial for border security, and were a major recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.
MONTAGNE: We have an urgency to be able to get this done and to be able to get it done as quickly as we can. Otherwise, we're merely tempting fate, and we're putting a tremendous burden on our frontline personnel.
FESSLER: Who now have to deal with thousands of different forms of ID at the border. But lawmakers and businesses say they'll still push for a delay until 2009. Ken Oplinger is co-chairman of Business for Economic Security, Tourism and Trade, a U.S.-Canadian trade group. He says it will only confuse people if - as expected - the administration proposes requiring certain ID at the border next January with passports not required until later in the year.
MONTAGNE: What we want is simply a date where up until that date, X is allowed. After that date, Y is allowed. We don't want to have to try to extend this out over a year and a half time period and explain to the average traveler what it is that they need.
FESSLER: Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.
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