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Extra $60 for Faster Passport Service Doesn't Cut Wait by Much

The demand has driven up processing costs to nearly $1 billion, the State Department said in the notice. The most recent estimate shows that the department's cost for the new law would be $944 million from fiscal 2008 to 2010.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the extra $14 per passport that the State Department would hold back from the Treasury would be used to hire 400 passport processors, managers and support personnel this year and an additional 400 in fiscal 2008.

Katherine Estes, right, and Christina Bernal look over a passport application at the processing office in New Orleans, the country's third-largest center.
Katherine Estes, right, and Christina Bernal look over a passport application at the processing office in New Orleans, the country's third-largest center. (By Alex Brandon -- Associated Press)

The department also plans to open passport offices "to enhance customer service around the country," he said.

A Postal Push, Ahead of the Deadline

Here's a regulator running ahead of schedule -- the Postal Regulatory Commission.

The commission this week released a 160-page proposed framework for setting mail rates, beating the deadline set by Congress by 10 months.

The proposed rule represents a major step toward the first overhaul of U.S. Postal Service operations since 1971 and grows out of a law signed by President Bush last year. Congress approved the overhaul partly in response to the explosive growth of the Internet and e-mail, which are eroding the volume of first-class mail.

Under the proposed law, the Postal Service would be able to adjust mail rates and stamp prices annually. For some types of mail, such as first-class letters, magazines and advertising, rate increases cannot exceed the consumer-price index for the previous 12 months.

The commission's proposed rule also reflects a push by Dan G. Blair, the panel's chairman, to discourage the Postal Service from filing for a stamp increase in December under the old rules, as permitted by the new law.

If the old rules are used, the process for increasing mail rates would probably take 10 months and require retailers, advertisers, banks and others who use the mail to spend thousands of dollars challenging a rate increase.

"It would be unfortunate if, in this reformed environment, rate changes had to be litigated under the old cost of service system," the proposed rule said.

The Postal Service said no decision has been made on whether to stick with the old rules or jump into a new rate-making system. Dave Partenheimer, a Postal Service spokesman, said the agency will file a reply to the proposed rule next month.

Talk Show

Steven L. Katz, who has worked on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch, on "FedTalk" at 11 a.m. today on and WFED radio (1050 AM).

Anthony J. Vegliante, chief human resources officer and executive vice president at the U.S. Postal Service, is to be the guest on the IBM "Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. Saturday on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

Stephen Barr's e-mail address

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