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End the bottleneck Schumer's bill seeks to ease inept bureaucratic passport snag

It would have been a nice irony if a bill to ease the bureaucratic bottleneck in passport applications had moved through Congress more quickly than the average passport application now moves through the State Department.

It didn't happen. But the bill now has been passed, without dissenting vote, by both houses of Congress, less than four months after it was introduced by New York's Sen. Charles E. Schumer. Even with the need for another clean-up vote by the Senate, that's fairly speedy for Congress.

It would then be up to President Bush to sign and, hopefully, quickly implement the law. Given the administration's track record in matters of basic bureaucratic competence, though, it is not yet time to relax.

After 9/1 1, there were many ideas on how to make it harder for the bad guys to hit us again. Among the plans that sounded good at the time was the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative -- WHTI -- which turned out to be rather witless in its execution.

WHTI would require American citizens going to and from Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean to carry current passports. Yet, having said that millions more people would need passports, everyone in government seemed totally taken aback when the flood of passport applications -- a million a month -- overwhelmed the government's ability to process them. A procedure that used to take six weeks now can take three months. Everything from summers abroad to important travel plans has been disrupted or ruined.

Schumer's bill simply allows the State Department to hire back retired workers who already have the knowledge and the clearance to issue passports, and allow them to work without giving up any retirement benefits. The department says it has a list of such folks, and the bill should allow a lot of them to pick up some well-earned extra money while doing their country a good service.

If that will help, good. If it won't, the administration needs to be quick about telling us what else it needs, so this national embarrassment can be solved.

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