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Passport backlog draws an apology

WASHINGTON -- The current passport mess is rare among government foul-ups: A top federal official has publicly taken the blame and expressed regret.

"Over the past several months, many travelers who applied for a passport did not receive their document in time for their planned travel," said Assistant Secretary of State Maura Harty. "I deeply regret that. I accept complete responsibility for this."

In an effort to thwart terrorists, the government in January implemented new rules requiring Americans to have passports for travel between the United States and Canada, Mexico, and most of the Caribbean Islands. By summer, more than 2 million citizens were waiting to get passports for such travel; half a million had waited more than three months since applying for the travel identification that historically has been ready in six weeks.

The massive backlog has destroyed summer vacations, ruined wedding and honeymoon plans, and disrupted business meetings and educational trips. Some people have lost days of work waiting in lines, while others have lost thousands of dollars in nonrefundable travel and lodging deposits.

Some in Congress wonder if the effort hasn't actually harmed security. Others question whether more passports actually contribute much to security at all.