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Aviation Security: Federal Air Marshal Service Has Taken Actions to Fulfill Its Core Mission and Address Workforce Issues, but Additional Actions Are Needed to Improve Workforce Survey

GAO-09-273 Published: Jan 14, 2009. Publicly Released: Feb 13, 2009.
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By deploying armed air marshals onboard selected flights, the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), a component of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), plays a key role in helping to protect approximately 29,000 domestic and international flights operated daily by U.S. air carriers. GAO was asked to examine (1) FAMS's operational approach or "concept of operations" for covering flights, (2) to what extent this operational approach has been independently evaluated, and (3) the processes and initiatives FAMS established to address workforce-related issues. GAO analyzed documented policies and procedures regarding FAMS's operational approach and a July 2006 classified report based on an independent evaluation of that approach. Also, GAO analyzed employee working group reports and other documentation of FAMS's processes and initiatives for addressing workforce-related issues, and interviewed the FAMS Director, other senior officials, and 67 air marshals (selected to reflect a range in levels of experience). This report is the public version of a restricted report (GAO-09-53SU) issued in December 2008.


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Law Enforcement - Federal Air Marshal Service To facilitate continued progress in identifying and addressing issues that affect the ability of FAMS personnel to perform the agency's aviation-security mission, the FAMS Director should take appropriate actions to increase the usefulness of the workforce satisfaction surveys that FAMS plans to conduct biennially. Such actions could include, for example, ensuring that the survey questions and the answer options are clearly structured and unambiguous and that additional efforts are considered for obtaining the highest possible response rates.
Closed – Implemented
The Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) has taken actions to increase the response rate and improve the quality of the survey instrument, which are responsive to GAO's recommendation. The actions include FAMS: (1) securing a third-party contractor to administer the survey in order to promote confidence to FAMS employees that the survey is anonymous and confidential, (2) sending pre-survey e-mails and reminder e-mails to nonrespondents, in addition to extending the period for responding to the survey over prior surveys, (3) providing a "not applicable" question response as an option, and (4) adding more detail to certain questions on satisfaction with technology and with local managers response to, and communication of, various FAMS headquarter's management initiatives. FAMS officials made these revisions to the Workforce Satisfaction Survey in the spring of 2010 and conducted a pre-test in May 2010. FAMS conducted the actual survey on-line from September to November 2010. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

Full Report

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Agency missionsAir marshalsAircraftAviation securityCommercial aviationConcept of operationsDocumentationEvaluation methodsHomeland securityJob satisfaction surveysLabor forceLabor relationsMission essential operationsPerformance measuresProgram managementRegulatory agenciesReporting requirementsReports managementRisk factorsRisk managementSecure flightSecurity threatsStrategic planningTerrorismTransportation safetyTransportation securityPolicies and proceduresProgram goals or objectivesProgram implementation