Aviation Security:

Federal Air Marshal Service Has Taken Steps to Address Workforce Issues, but Additional Actions Needed

GAO-20-125: Published: Feb 12, 2020. Publicly Released: Feb 12, 2020.

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russellw@gao.gov

 

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The Federal Air Marshal Service deploys air marshals to help ensure the security of, and to prevent threats to, civil aviation.

We assessed several air marshal workforce issues. Among other things, air marshals have expressed concerns about schedule unpredictability and sleep deprivation. The Service has guidelines for shift lengths and rest periods but doesn’t monitor if they are followed. Also, although the Service has adopted a plan to help prevent discrimination, it hasn’t fully implemented it.

We made 6 recommendations, including assessing workforce health and renewing focus on preventing discrimination.

Federal Air Marshal badge

Federal Air Marshal badge

Additional Materials:

Contact:

William Russell
(202) 512-8777
russellw@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

Air marshals continue to express concerns about their health, but the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) has not comprehensively assessed the health of its workforce. Air marshals in all six field offices we visited noted health issues, such as sleep deprivation, as a key quality of life concern. FAMS has taken steps to assess air marshals' individual health, such as requiring medical exams, but has not comprehensively assessed the overall health of its workforce and has not developed a plan to do so. FAMS officials stated that it would be difficult to analyze air marshals' medical records because they are not stored electronically, though they are researching options to do so. FAMS could develop and implement a plan to analyze the employee health data it already collects to identify workforce trends, and use this information to better promote employee welfare consistent with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) leadership principles.

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FAMS has taken some steps to address air marshals' concerns about their work schedules. In March 2018, FAMS revised its deployment strategy to expand coverage of certain high risk missions that it typically learns of 72 hours in advance. Following this, changes to air marshals' schedules to accommodate these missions more than doubled. In response, FAMS altered how it staffs these missions and reports that these modifications have reduced schedule changes. FAMS also maintains shift length and rest period guidelines intended to balance mission needs with air marshals' quality of life. However, FAMS does not monitor the extent to which air marshals' actual work hours are consistent with guidelines because it has not identified a need to do so. As a result, it cannot determine how frequently air marshals work beyond guidelines and is not well-positioned to manage risks associated with long work hours.

From fiscal years 2016 through 2018, FAMS employees filed 230 discrimination complaints with TSA's Civil Rights Division, though employees may have reported additional discrimination complaints through other means. In 2012, FAMS adopted an action plan to address discrimination and has taken some steps called for in the plan, such as sustaining a FAMS Ombudsman position. However, due to a loss of management focus on the plan, FAMS has not fully implemented other planned efforts, such as holding diversity focus groups. Taking steps to reaffirm its efforts to prevent discrimination would demonstrate leadership commitment to reducing concerns of discrimination within FAMS.

Why GAO Did This Study

In the wake of 9/11, terrorists continue to target aircraft and airports, underscoring the ongoing threat to civil aviation and the need for effective security measures. FAMS deploys air marshals on selected flights to address such threats and is a key component of TSA's approach to aviation security. However, longstanding challenges faced by FAMS's workforce could impact its ability to carry out its mission.

GAO was asked to review FAMS workforce issues. This report addresses (1) the extent to which FAMS has taken steps to address air marshals' health concerns, (2) the extent to which FAMS has taken steps to address air marshals' concerns about their work schedules, and (3) the number of discrimination complaints FAMS employees have reported and the extent to which FAMS has taken steps to prevent discrimination.

GAO analyzed TSA and FAMS policies; documentation of efforts to address air marshals' quality of life issues; and FAMS data on missions, schedules, and discrimination complaints. GAO also interviewed TSA and FAMS officials, including FAMS management and air marshals in a non-generalizable sample of six FAMS field offices selected to capture a breadth of perspectives.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making six recommendations to FAMS, including that it implement a plan to assess the health of the FAMS workforce, monitor the extent that air marshals' shifts are consistent with guidelines, and strengthen efforts to prevent discrimination. DHS concurred with all six recommendations.

For more information, contact William Russell at (202) 512-8777 or russellw@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and in January 2020, DHS officials stated that FAMS is evaluating case management software to track this information and plans to pursue funding for this effort in fiscal year 2021.This action, if fully implemented, should address the intent of the recommendation. When we confirm what actions DHS has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Executive Assistant Administrator / Director of FAMS should identify and utilize a suitable system that provides information about air marshals' medical qualification status. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Transportation Security Administration: Office of Law Enforcement - Federal Air Marshal Service

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and in January 2020, DHS officials stated that FAMS had established a team to develop a plan for assessing workforce health and wellness issues. Adopting and implementing a plan that assesses the health and fitness of the FAMS workforce as a whole, should address the intent of the recommendation. When we confirm what actions DHS has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Executive Assistant Administrator / Director of FAMS should develop and implement a plan to assess the health and fitness of the FAMS workforce as a whole, including trends over time. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Transportation Security Administration: Office of Law Enforcement - Federal Air Marshal Service

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and in January 2020, DHS officials stated that FAMS will begin tracking air marshals' actual hours and examine the extent to which air marshals' actual and scheduled hours vary. This information could be helpful, for example, in assessing air marshals' schedule predictability. However, to address the intent of this recommendation, FAMS would need to monitor the extent that air marshals' actual work and rest hours are consistent with FAMS's scheduling guidelines. When we confirm what actions DHS has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Executive Assistant Administrator / Director of FAMS should identify and implement a means to monitor the extent to which air marshals' actual shifts and rest hours are consistent with scheduling guidelines. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Transportation Security Administration: Office of Law Enforcement - Federal Air Marshal Service

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and in January 2020, DHS officials stated that FAMS will provide air marshals ongoing access to the guidelines. This action, if fully implemented, should address the intent of the recommendation. When we confirm what actions DHS has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Executive Assistant Administrator / Director of FAMS should provide all air marshals access to scheduling guidelines, including workday length and rest periods. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Transportation Security Administration: Office of Law Enforcement - Federal Air Marshal Service

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and in January 2020, DHS officials stated that FAMS will provide supervisors ongoing access to scheduling authorities and procedures. This action, if fully implemented, should address the intent of the recommendation. When we confirm what actions DHS has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Executive Assistant Administrator / Director of FAMS should disseminate or otherwise provide supervisory air marshals access to guidance that outlines authorities and procedures for changing an air marshal's work schedule. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Transportation Security Administration: Office of Law Enforcement - Federal Air Marshal Service

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and in January 2020, DHS officials stated that FAMS plans to review the goals of its 2012 action plan and develop steps to strengthen efforts to prevent discrimination. These actions, if fully implemented, should address the intent of the recommendation. When we confirm what actions DHS has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Executive Assistant Administrator / Director of FAMS should take steps to reaffirm and strengthen efforts to prevent discrimination by, for example, updating and following through on its 2012 action plan and renewing leadership commitment to the plan's goals. (Recommendation 6)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Transportation Security Administration: Office of Law Enforcement - Federal Air Marshal Service

 

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