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Air Marshals’ Cost, Effectiveness Questioned by U.S. House

Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. air marshals, who have clandestinely taken thousands of flights to protect passengers since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, may no longer be worth their approximately $1 billion annual cost, a House panel said.

“The reality is the terrorists have adapted to our security measures and changed their tactics,” Representative Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican and chairman of the Transportation Security Subcommittee, said today at a hearing.

There were 33 U.S. air marshals when terrorists hijacked jetliners and flew them into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington. Within months, the U.S. moved the marshals from the Federal Aviation Administration to the newly created Transportation Security Administration.

The government quickly hired thousands more marshals, many of them retired Secret Service and law-enforcement officers.

The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general said in a report released last week that some employees at the Federal Air Marshals Service feel they’ve been subject to discrimination and favoritism.

The report pointed to allegations, reported by CNN in 2010, that supervisors in the service’s Orlando, Florida, field office created a simulated board game modeled on the “Jeopardy!” television show with categories containing derogatory nicknames for veterans, women, minorities and gays.

Tension, Mistrust

“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, while concluding there isn’t widespread discrimination or retaliation at the service.

About one-fourth of air marshals said they had been discriminated against and 55 percent believed favoritism is tolerated. Many supervisors disagreed with those perceptions, Charles Edwards, the department’s acting inspector general, said in testimony.

The dissatisfaction among some employees poses “a difficult challenge” for the agency, though it doesn’t “appear to have compromised the service’s mission,” the report said.

While air marshals “police our skies and protect our passengers, we must wonder what happens when they leave the airport and return to the office,” said Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat. “This is not the organization we envisioned 10 years ago.”

The TSA is making management changes at the service, the agency’s assistant administrator, Robert Bray, said.

The marshal service “suffered from a lack of management cohesion, negative workforce perceptions and a lack of compliance with headquarters direction,” Bray said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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