The chairman of the House oversight committee has asked the Department of Homeland Security for an independent investigation into allegations of discrimination and retaliation in the Federal Air Marshal Service.
In separate stories, ProPublica and CBS News reported Monday that dozens of air marshals say they’ve been treated unfairly by an "old boys club" of supervisors who target employees who speak up or don’t fit a certain mold.
The Transportation Security Administration is investigating allegations that supervisors in the air marshals’ Orlando field office created a "Jeopardy!"-style game board with derogatory nicknames for African-Americans, Hispanics, homosexuals and veterans as a way to mete out discipline and undesirable assignments.
In Cincinnati, an attorney representing six air marshals asked a federal judge for a restraining order against the TSA. A female air marshal said that after she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit, supervisors informed her that her security clearance was being revoked over a $109 error on her expense report. Another air marshal said TSA investigators made a veiled threat that, if he didn’t recant testimony in the woman’s favor, they would go to his wife and allege he was having an affair.
In the letter sent Tuesday to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., said that because the complaints took place within the TSA, it would be more appropriate if the investigations were conducted by the Homeland Security inspector general.
"Taken together, these allegations paint a troubling picture of a service that is failing to respect important federal merit system principles, including the requirement that all employees be treated fairly and equitably, and without regard to their race, sex, or national origin," Towns wrote.
In addition, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., asked the House Homeland Security Committee to review the allegations after Tampa TV station WTSP reported about air marshal complaints in the Orlando and Tampa offices. The committee is looking into the matter.
After the stories ran, air marshal director Robert Bray sent an agency-wide e-mail saying, "I do not believe these isolated incidents are representative of the culture of the Federal Air Marshal Service."
He noted that "hundreds of air marshals have come forward without fear of retaliation" through agency programs, such as meetings with the director or groups to address specific issues. Air marshal spokesman Nelson Minerly said that more than 1,000 air marshals have submitted suggestions through an internal Web site where air marshals can provide anonymous feedback to the director.