Collin County residents will have to look somewhere other than the local district clerk's office for U.S. Passports.
District Clerk Lynne Finley said her passport offices in Plano and McKinney were placed on indefinite suspension in December by the Dallas Passport Agency, a subdivision of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, blocking them from handling new applications.
Finley said the move comes after a 5-year passport fraud investigation by State Department officials, "despite the agency's own investigative arm having cleared the two passport offices she runs in Plano and McKinney."
"As soon as I learned of an investigation I reached out to the Diplomatic Security Service and after spending hours with the agents working on the investigation, the Dallas Passport Agency suspended our offices against the advice of DSS," Finley said. "We've done everything we possibly can do to cooperate and DSS found nothing wrong with the way we handle passport applications. The Dallas Passport Agency continues to treat us with contempt when we suggest improvements in the processes to try and prevent passport fraud. Collin County embraces change if it makes a process more effective, efficient and protects the integrity of the process."
Finley said her office handled nearly 40,000 passport applications last year, resulting in $1 million in handling fees that went to the county's general fund, and was one of the largest passport facilities in North Texas.
Finley said she was made aware her office may have received one suspect passport, but that she and her staff were later exonerated. She said her office is being retaliated against by the Dallas Passport Agency because she pointed out flaws in that agency's own procedures during the Diplomatic Security Service investigation.
She said the Dallas agency counters that she is in violation of their rules, but has refused to specify what violations, if any, have been noted.
In a statement released to the media, Finley said questions posed by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Van Taylor have all been ignored. NBC 5 reached out to the offices of those elected officials but has not yet received a response.
"When a federal agency refuses to answer questions of any kind to our Senators, Congressman and elected officials tasked with running a Passport Acceptance Program, clearly there is no oversight or accountability," Finley said in her statement. "It is a shame that Collin County residents are going to be greatly inconvenienced and I may lose some very competent employees through no fault of their own but we need to evoke change in this process and hold the State Department accountable for these failings."
Collin County residents, meanwhile, can still file passport applications at local post offices.