Aviation Security:

Federal Air Marshal Service Is Addressing Challenges of Its Expanded Mission and Workforce, but Additional Actions Needed

GAO-04-242: Published: Nov 19, 2003. Publicly Released: Nov 24, 2003.

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To help strengthen aviation security after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Congress expanded the size and mission of the Federal Air Marshal Service (the Service) and located the Service within the newly created Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Between November 2001 and July 1, 2002, the Service grew from fewer than 50 air marshals to thousands, and its mission expanded to include the protection of domestic as well as international flights. In March 2003, the Service, with TSA, merged into the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS); and in November 2003, it was transferred from TSA and merged into DHS's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). GAO looked at operational and management control issues that emerged during the rapid expansion of the Service, specifically addressing its (1) background check procedures and training; (2) management information, policies, and procedures; and (3) challenges likely to result from its mergers into DHS and ICE.

To deploy its expanded workforce by July 1, 2002, a deadline set by the Deputy Secretary of Transportation, the Service used expedited procedures to obtain interim secret security clearances for air marshal candidates and provided abbreviated training for them. These procedures allowed candidates with interim clearances to work until they received their final top-secret clearances. Because of a governmentwide demand for clearances, nearly a quarter of the active air marshals had not received their top-secret clearances as of July 2003; but by October 2003, only about 3 percent were awaiting their top-secret clearances. To train its expanded workforce before the Deputy Secretary's deployment deadline, the Service incrementally revised and abbreviated its curriculum. The Service has begun to develop management information, policies, and procedures to support its expanded workforce and mission, but it has not yet completed this major effort. For example, it replaced a manual system for scheduling flight duty with an automated system, but it has not yet developed an automated means to monitor the effectiveness of its scheduling controls designed to prevent air marshals' fatigue. In addition, it has gathered and used information on potential security incidents and on air marshals' reasons for separation from the Service to improve its operations and workforce management. However, some of this information is not clear or detailed enough to facilitate follow-up. Finally, the Service has implemented policies needed to support its expansion. The Service is likely to face challenges in implementing changes resulting from its mergers into DHS and ICE, including changes to its roles, responsibilities, and training and to its procedures for coordinating with TSA's security organizations, as well as administrative changes. GAO's recent work on mergers and organizational transformations proposes several key practices--set implementation goals, establish a communication strategy, and involve employees to obtain their ideas--and associated implementation steps that could help the Service implement such changes.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security to support the Service's continued commitment to developing into a high-performing organization, to improve management information and to implement key practices that contribute to successful mergers and organizational transformations, by developing an automated method to compare actual hours worked with scheduled hours so that the Service can monitor the effectiveness of its scheduling controls and support its planned long-term study of the effects of flying on air marshals and their aviation security mission.

    Agency Affected:

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: June 2007: FAMS developed and implemented an electronic Exit Survey in November 2005 that all separating employees are given the option of completing. The exit survey polls departing employees' opinions on their satisfaction with various aspects of employment with FAMS, including their reasons for leaving. A policy was issued, OMS 3210 Out Processing Policy, that describes the process and procedure for providing departing employees with the exit survey and an accompanying checklist was created for controlling offices to further ensure that employees are given the survey. The exit survey process is also included in TSA Management Directive No 1100.30-10. Employee Relations manages the tracking and reporting of data, which allows FAMS to track employees' reasons for leaving in order to inform management decisions regarding recruitment and retention.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security to support the Service's continued commitment to developing into a high-performing organization, to improve management information and to implement key practices that contribute to successful mergers and organizational transformations, by seeking and monitoring employee attitudes by obtaining detailed, firsthand information on air marshals' reasons for separation, using such means as confidential, structured exit surveys, that will allow management to analyze and address issues that could affect retention and take appropriate follow-up actions, such as improving training, career development opportunities, and communication.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

 

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