The Federal Air Marshal Service is facing allegations of workplace discrimination and intoxicated guards that have prompted a government investigation, The New York Times reported.
The Transportation Security Administration allegedly now checks regularly whether armed guards are showing up for flight assignments sober, and the Times cited multiple sources who describe an agency in disarray.
“We take any allegation of inappropriate behavior very seriously,” a TSA spokesman told The Hill. “TSA and the Federal Air Marshal Service leadership take the care of our people very seriously and vigorously dispute any indication otherwise.”
More than two dozen former and current federal air marshals described for the Times story employee issues they believed compromised the ability of air marshals to do their jobs.
Minority and female air marshals said, in court documents and interviews obtained by the Times, that they faced discrimination and a hostile work environment. Many who reported that they faced sexual harassment or racial slurs on the job also said they feared retaliation by managers.
At the request of Congress, the Government Accountability Office will review air marshals’ complaints, a spokesperson told the Times.
A spokesman for the TSA disputed reports of systemic issues at the agency.
“[D]uring the last three years, a total of 13 Federal Air Marshals out of the thousands of FAMs operating around the world have received DUI’s,” the spokesman said. “These few personnel have been held accountable as appropriate. This is clearly not a systemic problem. In the last five years, one FAM candidate tragically committed suicide. While a very sad event, it would be inappropriate to characterize [it as] a suicide problem by any measure.”
Marshals that spoke to the Times indicated the number of hours they are expected to stay on duty prompt much of the drug and alcohol use among the guards.
The TSA told the Times that it makes quality assurance visits to ensure air marshals are prepared for missions.
The effectiveness and organization of the Federal Air Marshal Service to halt or deter mid-air attacks is a subject of ongoing discussion in Congress. Robert MacLean, an air marshal who publicly battled with the TSA over critical comments about the agency, told the Times that “most of what the air marshals do is just security theater — it serves absolutely no purpose other than showing that they are doing something.”