Months after the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Services cleared Collin County of any wrongdoing, Collin County District Clerk Lynne Finley has been told her office is permanently removed from accepting any new passport applications.
Ms. Finley's office was notified by Barry Conway, the Managing Director for Support Operations Passport Services on March 19, "that your response did not adequately address our concerns" after she went public to refute claims made against her office staff by the Bureau of Consular Affairs – the State Department division responsible for overseeing the passport application acceptance program.
Ms. Finley said she has asked Congressional leaders to investigate, either through a GAO investigation, "or any mechanism they deem appropriate," to address how the federal agencies involved punished her office, and work on ways to improve security procedures involving private passport expediting companies.
"As an elected official, four of my employees will lose their jobs and almost one million constituents will have to go elsewhere to apply for a passports," Ms. Finley said, adding that her office's permanent suspension is punishment for publicly airing her concerns about the her office's suspension, and other possible security weaknesses she pointed out in the passport application program's procedures.
"Pure and simple, here's a prime example of big government bullying local officials while taking no responsibility to the people whose tax dollars fund their operation," she said.
The District Clerk's offices handled almost 40,000 passport applications in the past year, and is one of the largest passport acceptance facilities in North Texas.
In December, the Dallas Passport Agency, a subdivision of the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, temporarily suspended the District Clerk's office from accepting any new passport applications, despite the office's cooperation and her staff of being cleared of any wrongdoing or procedural missteps by the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) in a lengthy passport fraud investigation.
In February, after publicly airing the dispute, the Department of State informed Ms. Finley that the suspension would continue due to a "possible inappropriate relationship between the Collin County passport acceptance facilities and private passport/visa expediting companies." The notice referenced two employees who had been mentioned in the same DSS investigation that cleared the clerk's office.
Within days, Ms. Finley refuted those claims, showing that second-hand information from the investigation had been distorted to disparage her employees, and implied that they may have been working on behalf of a local passport expediting service. The accusation, she says, was unfounded and flew in the face of the DSS investigation conclusions about the office's procedures and staff.
After waiting for a month, Ms. Finley released to the public her February letter to the State Department. Days later, she was informed the suspension of her office was permanent -- retaliation, Ms. Finley believes, for pointing out obvious procedural flaws in the way the State Department allows private expediting companies to be involved in the application process.
"It's very disappointing and frustrating that our concerns and the Passport Services' refusal and hostile response to ideas promoting any positive change in this program have been ignored," she said. "Unfortunately, it is the citizens who will be substantially inconvenienced by what is, quite frankly, an indifferent Federal agency seeking to deflect from its own internal security flaws that were brought to light by honest criticism."
Extra: Letter sent to Congressional leaders.