Nearly two decades ago, I began as a junior-level staffer at National Passport Center (NPC). At the time, NPC was affectionately nicknamed the "pink palace" among my colleagues because its primary function was to process passport renewal applications, which happened to be pink.
Handling millions of renewal applications in one facility was an innovative approach to the passport process. It helped us get the finished product -- a U.S. passport book -- to our customers faster and more efficiently.
In my first few days at NPC, I worked with approximately 50 people, all of whom quickly became familiar with that one bright, pink color. Today, NPC is the largest domestic passport facility with 800 employees. We also process more than just passport renewals, which -- by the way -- are no longer pink.
Several years after I started, we began issuing passports for first-time customers who submitted applications at hundreds of non-Department acceptance facilities (such as post offices and clerks of court) in the northeast part of the country. More employees were hired to help us meet increased passport demand.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, NPC was at the forefront of the Department's efforts to improve the passport process and enhance national security. We were the first passport facility to issue a photo-digitized passport, meaning the photo was digitally printed into the passport book instead of glued onto the data page and covered with a laminate. We were also the first domestic facility to issue passports (only for routine service of four to six weeks) to U.S. citizens living abroad, so that passports issued to people overseas would have the same enhanced security features as those issued domestically.
Another big change came in October 2010 when we reconfigured our existing space and opened three public windows. Our goal was simple: to provide in-person and convenient passport services for residents in New Hampshire and surrounding states. Before 2010, local residents had to hop in their car and drive south on I-95 to the Boston Passport Agency if they needed a passport for urgent international travel in 14 days or less.
You can visit us in historic Portsmouth from 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. EST, Saturday, March 10, for Passport Day in the USA. On this day only, appointments are not necessary to apply. Our mascot, Passport Pal, will be at NPC to pose for pictures with young kids. Additionally, hundreds of New England-area acceptance facilities will be open on March 10. For more information on acceptance facility locations, check out travel.state.gov/passportday.