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Problem-plagued Air Marshal Service gets makeover

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WASHINGTON, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Transportation Security Administration reorganizes Federal Air Marshal Service in order to avoid the kinds of personnel problems described in a recent government report, witnesses at a congressional hearing said Thursday.

The service is a branch of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that oversees security on airline flights, and includes undercover officers who are armed and fly aboard planes to thwart potential attacks.

A TSA inspector general’s report last month said some managers have created a hostile work environment for air marshals through their insults toward women, minorities, veterans and gays.

The report also said the air marshals’ management did not cooperate well within the organization and found a lack of compliance with directions from their headquarters.

The report expressed concern that a negative work environment would diminish the effectiveness of the air marshals.

“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.

The service responded with a plan to restructure the organization.

The reorganization would include centralizing the air marshals’ financial, administrative and technology management services within the TSA. In addition, many management functions would be consolidated, Robert Bray, the TSA’s assistant administrator, said in his congressional testimony.

“Changing the management structure and re-invigorating the focus of field operations addresses the (inspector general’s) concerns by laying the foundation for real, positive cultural change to our workforce,” Bray said.

He also said allegations of discrimination against the agency were unfounded.

The hearing by a House Homeland Security subcommittee was intended to determine whether the reorganization would fulfill its goals.

Some lawmakers, such as Representative Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation security, are concerned the planned reorganization is superficial.

“I want to ensure that this reorganization does not set the air marshals back in any way, particularly with respect to training, operations or adding unnecessary layers of bureaucracy,” Rogers said.

He mentioned the December 25, 2009 Al-Qaeda attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound flight by the so-called “underwear bomber” as an example of the ongoing need for the air marshals’ vigilance. The accused bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was sentenced to life in prison Thursday.

Rogers seemed skeptical of the air marshals’ reassurances that their planned reorganization was worthwhile.

“While I can understand TSA’s desire to restructure itself amidst all the criticism it gets, it should not make these types of decisions in haste,” he said. “The ultimate goal should be to provide security while reducing the cost to the taxpayer in a tight economy.”

The reorganization plan did not explain how taxpayers would save money, Rogers said.

The Federal Air Marshal Service is operating with a $966.1 million budget for fiscal 2012.

“So if reorganization, such as this, does not lead to any cost savings, it is difficult to see the logic behind it or support it,” he said.

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, expressed concern about the marshal service’s internal problems when she said, “This is not the organization we envisioned 10 years ago.”