Q: I am going to apply for a passport soon for a trip I am taking in May. How long does the processing take, and would that be affected by a government shutdown?
A: When I checked the State Department website on Thursday, it said, "we are processing routine applications in approximately four to six weeks from the time of application." But if there is no agreement in Washington on how to extend spending after March 4, when funding for the current fiscal year expires, passport production certainly could slow. Most government shutdowns last fewer than three days, though some have stretched longer. In 1995, for instance, there were two shutdowns; one lasted five days and the other, 21. According to the Congressional Research Service, "200,000 U.S. applications for passports reportedly went unprocessed."
My advice: Always seek a passport well before any trip that requires one. Given the current budget debates, you can opt to pay an additional $60, plus the costs of overnight shipping both ways, to have your passport book expedited. Be sure to write "expedited" on the outside of mailed applications. You could also pay an additional fee to hire a passport expediter service. Both A Briggs Passport & Visa Expeditors (www.abriggs.com) and ZVS (www.zvs.com) are reliable options.