Air marshall exam drops shooting component

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Air marshall exam drops shooting component

Becoming an air marshal is getting easier, no weapons testing, no deep background tests, and often few chances to actually work. Its a messed up system that's failing everyone.

For years, the government touted federal air marshals as the best of the best an "elite corps" of undercover officers trained to stop hijackings on commercial flights.

But today, after rushing to hire thousands of new marshals, the program is so beset with problems that sources say at least 80 marshals have quit, and other marshals say they are considering a class-action lawsuit over working conditions that they fear put travelers at risk.

Many have grown disillusioned with a program that one says has become "like security-guard training for the mall."

Hiring standards for marshals added since Sept. 11 have been lowered dramatically, sources say.

No longer must applicants pass a difficult marksmanship course that used to be the make-or-break test for the program. In addition, many new hires were given guns and badges and put aboard flights before extensive background checks were completed.

At some of the agency's more than 20 regional offices, the program has struggled to provide ammunition for shooting practice, sources say.

Despite the undercover nature of the work, officials have implemented a dress code that marshals worry identifies them to terrorists. And scheduling has been haphazard: While some marshals have not flown for weeks at a time, sources say others are working 12- to 16-hour days and are falling asleep or getting sick aboard flights.
... Quote:
This used to be an elite, great group. This used to be the baddest people you could find war heroes. Now they've turned this into a laughingstock.
says one marshal who joined the program just after the terrorist attacks.

At least three incidents involving the conduct of individual marshals are under investigation by federal authorities.

In one incident last month, a marshal was removed from a flight in Washington after smelling of alcohol.

The head of the air marshal program confirms at least two cases in which marshals accidentally discharged their weapons, one in a hotel room in Las Vegas.

And sources say one marshal was suspended after he left his gun in a lavatory aboard a United Airlines flight from Washington to Las Vegas in December. A passenger discovered the weapon.

Although the precise number of marshals is classified, sources say about 6,000 have been hired since Sept. 11. Before the terrorist attacks, fewer than 50 marshals flew, and only on international routes.
... Quote:
A lot of people were drawn to this agency because it was a fresh agency. Now it's spoiled to the point that it's rotten. They tell us to bear with it, that it's growing pains. It's not growing pains. It's a disease.
says one manager involved in the hiring process.

The typical marshal earns about $52,000 a year, officials say at least $2,000 to $5,000 more than a Border Patrol agent.
... Quote:
The people I see staying are one of two types: people who were on the border working in the heat for 60 hours a week, and the other are local cops who are seeing another $18,000 to $20,000 a year in salary.

The folks were lured over and were told they'd be flying three days a week with a day of training. Now they're flying five days a week and rarely train. They never in a million years thought they'd be taken advantage of the way they're being taken advantage of.
says the marshal who joined the program just after Sept. 11.

But even some of those marshals have come to regret their decisions, says the president of the union representing border patrol agents.

One memo from a June 18 teleconference of regional managers notes "real issues with morale in the ranks" of those applying for leadership positions in the program.

Among the concerns:

A marksmanship test that simulates conditions a marshal might face aboard a jet was eliminated as a means of qualifying for the program, apparently to get more marshals on more flights quickly, sources say.

A manager and two sources within the TSA say the difficult shooting course was cut from qualification tests after a high number of applicants began failing what had once been the program's critical requirement. Program officials insist the shooting standards for marshals are among the highest for law enforcement organizations.

Regular training opportunities, such as time on the shooting range, are often precluded by the expanded flight schedules, marshals say. Even getting bullets for shooting practice has proven difficult.

Although they work undercover, marshals at some regional offices have been ordered to adhere to a dress code that requires them to wear "conservative male or female business attire" during most of their trips, documents show. Without special permission, they cannot dress more casually.

Marshals say making them look and dress alike is what threatens their cover. "This is really dangerous," says one marshal, who left the Justice Department for the air marshal program five months ago. "We are so obvious, the terrorists don't need to bring guns on the planes anymore. They just need to gang up on us and take our guns."

New hires were given badges and guns and put aboard flights before extensive background checks necessary for national security clearances were completed. .
... Quote:
If someone slips through the cracks, how do you not know they're not a terrorist? You've already put them on a plane.
says one marshal who received a waiver.

Work schedules are disorganized. Schedules reviewed by USA TODAY show marshals often fly with different partners each day, even though they were told during training that developing rapport with a partner was crucial. Many end up flying more than 10 hours a day. "It's ridiculous," says the marshal from the Justice Department. "Guys are complaining about headaches and vertigo and dizziness. We're falling asleep. We're nodding off."

And though one memo from a manager's teleconference says the agency is "being judged on how many flights we can cover," more than a dozen marshals in each of two offices were not scheduled for weeks at a time, sources say.

"In May, for 3 1/2 weeks, they forgot about me," says one marshal. "And not just me. There had to be 15 guys in the office they forgot about. We sat in the office watching kung fu movies."

The marshal says many colleagues, cynical about the division's failure to offer them training, jokingly considered the Bruce Lee movies "our close-quarters training." When the marshals repeatedly called the scheduling center in Atlantic City to try to get on flights, schedulers said, "Don't worry about it. You're getting paid," the marshal recalls.

Other marshals say they routinely work more than 50 hours a week but, because of a government pay structure for law enforcement officers, never earn overtime.

Instead, based on a policy called "law enforcement availability pay," they are paid for 50 hours of straight time each week even if they work more than that.

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By netchicken: posted on 16-11-2008

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