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Report: Air marshals face discrimination on the job

Feb. 9, 2012 - 06:00AM   |  
By BART JANSEN   |   Comments
Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole said he agreed with the inspector general's 12 recommended changes to the air marshal program. Pistole said some changes have already been implemented.
Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole said he agreed with the inspector general's 12 recommended changes to the air marshal program. Pistole said some changes have already been implemented. (Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images)

A quarter of federal air marshals reported being discriminated against and nearly half fear retaliation for reporting problems, according to a new inspector general's survey.

Charles Edwards, the acting inspector general for Homeland Security, surveyed the workforce that protects planes against terrorists as part of an investigation after a January 2010 report by CNN that alleged misconduct, discrimination and retaliation in the Orlando office.

In his 117-page report released Wednesday, Edwards made 12 recommendations, including:

Encouraging workers to report incidents that might result in discipline while improving communication and diversity in the workplace.

Developing a comprehensive system for tracking disciplinary action against workers.

Establishing guidelines for raises and promotions, especially with an eye toward whether desirable slots that are ground-based or on international flights are rotated among workers or given to the same workers in back-to-back years.

"There is a great deal of tension, mistrust and dislike between non-supervisory and supervisory personnel in field offices around the country," the report said. "These issues pose a challenge for the agency, but they do not appear to have compromised the service's mission."

Air marshals are undercover officers who are armed and fly aboard planes with passengers to thwart potential terrorists.

The number of marshals is classified, but there are now thousands, in contrast to 33 at the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

John Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration, which oversees the marshals, said he agreed with the recommendations. He said there have already been changes.

"We have been working to address those issues that were raised in the report," Pistole said. "Personnel changes were made. Several people were fired. Several people resigned."

The CNN report contained pictures of a board mimicking the TV quiz program "Jeopardy!" created in the Orlando office that included derogatory names for veterans, women, blacks, Hispanics and gays. The three staffers who created the board in 2007 have left the service, the report said.

Air marshals complained that the mock game showed "that management disliked them and it helped explain why they had not received promotions, awards or international flight assignments or had been disciplined unjustly," the report said.

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