Fort Worth

Tarrant County closing passport offices in dispute with State Department

Want to get a passport in Tarrant County? Try the post office.
Want to get a passport in Tarrant County? Try the post office. Star-Telegram archives

Saying there was “an element of retaliation” from the State Department, Tarrant County District Clerk Tom Wilder said Friday that the county’s six U.S. passport offices are permanently closed.

In a Sept. 3 letter, the State Department outlined new conditions under which some of the offices, closed since June 24, could reopen, but Wilder said he couldn’t abide by those rules.

The State Department would not divulge the rules, and Wilder said federal officials prevented him from discussing them.

“I view this as an insult,” Wilder said. “It’s an attack on the credibility of our office. Quite frankly, I’m not happy about it.”

Wilder said he felt that he had been singled out by the State Department.

Closure of the offices affects 13 full-time and three part-time employees. About half have found other jobs with the county and the others have applied for new jobs, Wilder said.

The discord began in 2010 when Tarrant County came under the jurisdiction of the federal Dallas Passport Agency, he said.

Wilder said he had “chosen not to continue any relationship with the Dallas passport office.”

Wilder insisted there had been no “data breach” of documents and “no criminality, fraud, fraudulent documents or loss of personal identifiable information.” He said no passport data was ever stored in a computer. There was only a transmittal log on paper, as required by the State Department.

The federal department had conducted “14 clean audits” from 2011 to 2015, he said.

A State Department official declined to say whether Wilder’s office committed any violations of policy.

Wilder said he believed the Dallas passport office was unhappy about Tarrant County’s program of soliciting passport business from companies such as American Airlines.

“To me, there was an element of retaliation,” Wilder said.

A State Department official said on Thursday that Tarrant County had been informed of the steps needed to reopen at least two offices within the next month.

“The Department has completed its review of Tarrant County Passport Acceptance Facilities,” the official said in an email late Thursday. “The Department of State notified the County on September 3 of the necessary actions that must take place in order for them to resume accepting passport applications.”

County Commissioner Andy Nguyen said late Thursday that the State Department indicated that Tarrant County would have been subject to a two-year probation and various restrictions once that probation expired. Also, the district clerk would have been required to stop accepting passport applications at 3 p.m. instead of 5 p.m., he said.

Wilder declined to comment about Nguyen’s statements, saying he was limited by the State Department on what he could say about their rules and regulations.

Since the offices will not reopen, Wilder said his office’s budget for the next fiscal year will be reduced by about $800,000. Tarrant County commissioners are scheduled to vote on the budget on Tuesday. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The Tarrant County offices processed about 35,000 passport applications last year and processed about 33,000 so far this fiscal year.

Since the county offices closed, post offices have continued to accept passport applications and some have increased their hours.

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna