U.S. Office of Special Counsel Finds Substantial Likelihood that Federal Air Marshal Service Weakens Own Mission

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OSC Orders Homeland Security Secretary to Conduct Investigation; New FAMS Director Reaches Out to GAP Client Frank Terreri

[T]he failure to protect covert aviation security operations weakens the core FAMS mission.

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) commends the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for ordering an investigation by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff into a whistleblowing disclosure of illegality, “gross mismanagement, and a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety at the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS).”

In a letter dated August 10, 2006 and pursuant to OSC File No, DI-06-1620, the OSC informed GAP client and Federal Air Marshal Frank Terreri it found a “substantial likelihood” that “FAMS management has failed to fully protect the anonymity of Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) by actively employing policies which result in their public identifications as FAMs.” It continued, “[T]he failure to protect covert aviation security operations weakens the core FAMS mission.” Terreri had filed a formal legal petition with the OSC in April 2006, requesting that Special Counsel Scott Bloch look into these issues. Terreri leads the FAMS chapter of a non-government association, which represents the concerns of 1,500 Federal Air Marshals.

“The OSC’s ruling is a real mandate for reform. This should be a real wake-up call for Homeland Security,” stated GAP Legislative Representative Adam Miles. “Of the thousand or so whistleblower disclosures OSC receives every year, the Special Counsel backs only one to two percent, and most have a much lower profile. Without a doubt, this is the highest stakes whistleblower that Special Counsel Scott Bloch has backed since he arrived in 2003. Blowing the air marshals’ cover is a major tear in the aviation safety net.”

Terreri was harassed repeatedly, taken off active flight duty, and subjected to a series of retaliatory investigations for his whistleblowing. Fortunately, he and other air marshal whistleblowers have prompted long-overdue recognition at FAMS headquarters of the need for significant changes in the way the service approaches air security. This summer their charges were reinforced by a House Judiciary Committee investigation and report. New FAMS Director Dana Brown has since reached out to Terreri, and acknowledged the need for substantive reform in a meeting with him late in July.

“FAMS Director Brown has taken some noteworthy steps in the right direction since taking over for Thomas Quinn. He has conducted surveys to ascertain the safety, security and quality of life issues that impact Federal Air Marshals,” stated Terreri. “The London bombing plot shows the threat that continues to plague aviation safety. It is imperative that FAMS management move without delay to implement their findings and make necessary modifications to current policies to ensure the anonymity of Federal Air Marshals, the integrity of aviation security, and ultimately the protection of the American public."

The Special Counsel’s ruling creates a structure for Director Brown to follow through with the much needed reforms. Under the Whistleblower Protection Act, an OSC “substantial likelihood” determination triggers a process in which the Department of Homeland Security, which houses FAMS, is required to conduct an investigation of the allegations and report back to the Special Counsel. Terreri is allowed to comment on whether the report adequately addresses his concerns. The Special Counsel then makes another determination as to whether the report has resolved the public safety issues, before forwarding the report and Terreri’s comments to the President and appropriate congressional oversight committees.

“In recent months, there has been a bandwagon in Congress and the media demanding that the government stop blowing the cover of its own air marshals,” said GAP Legal Director Tom Devine. “Hopefully, the public will be safer because the Special Counsel jumped on this bandwagon. But nothing has changed yet. The real test will be whether the Special Counsel holds Secretary Chertoff’s feet to the fire during the follow-through cycle. We won’t see safer skies until we can’t see the air marshals.”

Click Here to view OSC letter to Terreri

Government Accountability Project

The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Seattle, WA.

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