Problems with passport production plans

The Government Printing Office (GPO) is responsible for printing most things that various government agencies require. This includes blank passport books, including the new super-fancy/hackable ones with the RFID chips in them. And the agency is charged with producing its goods for the agencies at cost – no need to drive a profit when all your customers are part of the same government, right? Well, apparently someone decided that the whole operating at break-even thing was silly, and that there weren’t really any reasons to worry about the security of the facility that prints blank passports. And so here we are…

The production of blank passports has been outsourced to a printer in Thailand. That isn’t so terrible, but it gets worse. The print shop is known to have previously been involved in espionage cases with other governments. So there is a higher chance that the blanks may not all be getting delivered to the State Department.

And, as an added bonus, the GPO is selling the blanks to State at a 100% markup, taking the profits and returning them to executives in the form of bonuses and luxury vacations. My favorite line in the second article is this one:

The bonuses are part of a 2005 plan by GPO, which is a monopoly printer for the U.S. government, to generate greater revenues under the assumption that a private-sector business model is more efficient, GPO documents show.

In other words, we’re going to run a for-profit department of the federal government by changing the operating process to behave as though it were in the free-market economy, and the only income is derived from other federal agencies, which means the money all comes from tax revenue or other fees. But it is a legislated monopoly, so there are no other options.

So the fancy new e-Passports may have chain of custody issues, and we’re paying too much for them anyways. Awesome.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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