Eintime Conversion for education and research 05-14-2006 @ 17:21:32
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Air Marshall Efflux*

Air marshals' resignations flood TSA, managers say

By Blake Morrison, USA TODAY

At least 250 federal air marshals have left the top-secret program, and documents obtained by USA TODAY suggest officials are struggling to handle what two managers call a flood of resignations.

Sources within the program say marshals are quitting at a rate of about a dozen a week. And some days, scores of marshals are calling in sick to get a break from flight schedules they say are making them ill, sources say. One memo, dated Aug. 16 and sent to managers by the program's operations control center, says some marshals could face "flights for 10 consecutive days."

A Transportation Department spokesman said neither Transportation Security Administration head James Loy nor air marshal Director Tom Quinn would comment.

In a letter to the editor published today in USA TODAY, Loy says fewer than 80 air marshals have quit. And a written statement released Wednesday by the Transportation Department said the "traveling public should rest assured that the Federal Air Marshal Service is providing the largest, highest caliber, best trained and most professional protective force in American aviation history."

After Sept. 11, putting more undercover officers aboard flights was billed as a key to preventing hijackings. Although the precise number of marshals is classified, sources say as many as 6,000 have been hired since Sept. 11. Before the terrorist attacks, fewer than 50 marshals flew.

More than two dozen current and former air marshals or supervisors in 13 regional offices, Washington, and the training center in Atlantic City say top managers lowered hiring standards to meet staffing quotas. They also say marshals are working 12- to 16-hour days and falling asleep or getting sick on flights.

The Transportation Department statement said "any private sector manager" would be "rewarded" for the program's attrition rate, which it says is "less than one%."

But program managers appear to have been ill-prepared for the influx of resignations. One e-mail, dated July 17 and sent to managers by the program's human resources office, talks about the need to appoint an employee relations assistant, "given the volume of resignations we have been receiving." Another memo, sent from the operations control center, cites a "long list of notifications for transfers and resignations."

"We were promised the Garden of Eden. We were given hell," one current marshal said. "If they don't make major changes fast, they're going to have no one left but the bottom of the barrel."

The Transportation Department statement said none of the marshals' complaints, "individually or collectively, constitute a crisis."

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