Pointing fingers is easy. Official Washington does it all the time.

Besieged by a barrage of taxpayer complaints over massive passport delays, Washington agencies are ducking responsibility, trying to pass the blame on to the next guy.

Neither the State Department, the agency assigned to renew and issue passports, nor the Department of Homeland Security, charged with keeping terrorists out, is giving an inch. Neither is Congress, rattled by raucous constituent complaints.

Then theres the U.S. Treasury Department and Citigroup, the contractor it hired to handle initial processing for passports.

Millions of passports have been waiting more than three months more than double the promised turnaround time and many summer travel plans have been postponed or cancelled, hurting both individual consumers and such businesses as hotels, restaurants, airlines, and tour operators.

Its a mess and Americans are screaming bloody murder. Heres a sampling from the msnbc.com website:

• "With the U.S. border with Mexico the way it is, what terrorist needs a U.S. passport? They can just come and go as they please into the U.S. and buy a $10 passport from Mexico."

• "I sent my passport in for name change only. This is free of charge if you submit it within a year of getting your other passport. I sent it in the beginning of March and still have not received it back. Its not right. Can you imagine taking this long to pay your taxes?"

• "Hmmm. I applied for a renewal of my passport in March. Hope it arrives before my trip to England next summer. Im getting a little concerned."

• "Wow: 150 seconds per application. Cost: almost $100. Thats over 50 cents per second ($1800 per hour)."

• "What is going to happen in 10 years when everyone has to renew their passports? Were going to have the same issue."

• "My husbands employer decided in March to send him to Germany in April. OMG. But...no worry. He works for the govt. He received his passport in about a week."

• "Just another way for political appointees and civil servants to make more money. Create a backlog and the public will send in more and more money to expedite their passport. Why not let the market decide how much getting a passport within a week is really worth? Auction them off on eBay."

• "I feel like Im a prisoner of my own country. This passport thing is a little overkill. I cant even go to Mexico or Canada on a cruise for my honeymoon."

• "This is the worst nightmare we are experiencing with the passport office. None of the procedures are working well, nor the website, nor the e.mail, nor the phone, nor the automated appointment system. Where can I talk with someone?"

• E.mail from PR stated we are led by an imbecile. I wonder who put that imbecile where he is now; I know I didnt."

• "Two to three months should be ample time for a government as large as the one George W. Bush has put in place to do its job."

• "What site do I go to to find the status of my renewal for passport? Its been four months now."

• "We were all assured several times that turnaround time for a passport was 8-10 weeks. PERIOD. The government did not start singing a different tune until June 1st."

• "$95 proper application and support documents 30 minutes at the post office and six days later a brand-new, first-time passport. Having worked in a processing department, I was amazed. The time frame did not allow for even a simple computer search for validity of birth certificate or a quick criminal data base check. This is just a wonderful example of our homeland security post 9/11. But God help you if you try to board a plane with a bottle of nail polish."

• "The public knew in advance of the passport requirement. However, we were promised turnaround times of 6-8 weeks for a routine passport application. I received my passport after I waited 14 weeks, which was two weeks past the date I needed it. In good faith, I applied with what should have been plenty of time to spare but the system let me down . . . if its going to take 13 weeks, they need to tell people this honestly."

• "I am very very very disappointed in the postal service and also the government. My son applied for a passport 12 weeks before his youth mission trip to Mexico with our church and was told the most it would take was 10 weeks. They left last Saturday (June 16) for the mission trip without him (NO PASSPORT). This is why I refuse to use the postal service anymore unless I absolutely have to, which is once a year. I hate you all . . . you are all a bunch of liars and are worthless."

• "With all the identity theft going on, one would think the government would be more concerned to handle peoples private information with more care . . . what mathematical genius decided to do each application in two-and-a-half minutes?

• "Checking these applications should be a thorough process and the (workers) should be given as much time as they need to do it properly. If that means hiring more employees, then hire more employees and do it right the first time."

• "Question of the day: what country holds a large bloc of Citigroup stock? I believe it is Saudi Arabia. Imagine that."

Confusion Reigns

Besides anger, there's confusion. Rules are changing almost daily.

The rule requiring all U.S. air arrivals to show passports has been postponed until Sept. 30, 2007. Until then, passengers arriving at an air gateway must show a government-issued photo ID (such as a drivers license) plus a receipt proving they have applied for a passport.

The new deadline for land and sea arrivals to show passports has been pushed back from January 2008 until the end of June, though that date has not been officially announced yet.

In the interim...

•; U.S. citizens will need to show photo ID issued by a government agency plus proof of citizenship (i.e. birth certificate).

•; Kids under 15 traveling with their parents need only birth certificates.

Got that? Good it may change again tomorrow.

The Department of Homeland Security insists using a single recognized document such as a U.S. passport will prevent terrorists or illegal aliens from entering the country easily. But Congress says the State Departments inability to meet promised passport turnaround deadlines has created agonizing delays, forcing many Americans to cancel paid-for summer trips.

Too Many Documents

According to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, border officials see more than 8,000 different documents under the current system, creating obvious loopholes that make it easy to enter the U.S. with false identification papers. Each of the 50 states, for example, issues different drivers licenses and some come in multiple varieties.

Although Chertoff promises to give 60-day notice for the new 2008 land and sea passport deadline, that may not be enough for many travelers. Getting passports issued or renewed to meet for planned plane trips has taken more than three months in many cases, but the passport deluge could worsen next year because Americans make 10 times more crossings by land and sea.

The State Departments Office of Passport Services has backlog of three million passport applications. Pressured to hurry, it has waived a one-time requirement for an error rate of less than 1 per cent.

Part of the problem, according to a State Department memo, is Citigroup, an outside contractor hired to do initial passport processing. But a bigger problem is too many passports and not enough handlers even though the department requested nearly 500 more two years ago. A budget-conscious executive denied that request.

Colin Walle, president of the union that represents passport workers in the State Department, says the passport office had 505 adjudicators (inspectors) in October 2005 but only 698 on June 11, 2007. He adds that inspectors process 24 applications per hour, an average of two-and-a-half minutes each that he insists is not enough to guarantee authenticity.

In the meantime, consumers can only wait.