The Federal Air Marshal office in Orlando has been plagued with scandal over the past few years, most famously for a Jeopardy-style game supervisors played with derogatory categories for African-Americans and people they thought were gay.
With the special agent in charge of the office, Bill Reese, announcing his retirement this week — presumably due to allegations of discrimination and impropriety, although TSA officials say it's because of personal reasons — we thought we'd recap some of what's allegedly been going in the office.
First, the Jeopardy game. Supervisors reportedly created the game and labeled the categories "pickle smokers" for men they thought were gay and "our gang" for African-Americans. According to an air marshal who wrote a letter about the complaints to Florida's two senators, the board also targeted Hispanics, women, veterans, and air marshals who had filed discrimination complaints against their supervisors.
One instructor would describe a specific air marshal and the other would have to guess who it was, they [three anonymous air marshals] said. The inside jokes led to harassment, undesirable assignments and sometimes fabricated disciplinary cases, they said.
The whistleblowers said those targeted on the board experienced an inability to advance in their jobs, extreme stress and hesitation to perform their duties to protect the public for fear of reprisals.
"It's not working effectively at all, and the skies are very vulnerable right now," said one whistleblower with the Air Marshal Service.
An image of the board:
Stories of discrimination prompted the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General to open an investigation last October. The investigation initially languished. In February, Oversight Committee Chair Edolphus Towns wrote to the DHS calling for an investigation. Then in June, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), ranking member of the committee, wrote a letter questioning why the investigations hadn't been fruitful. Issa said key witnesses had contacted him and said they were never interviewed by the investigators.
The allegations of discrimination, however, go deeper into the past. Last June, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that a supervisor in the office had discriminated against an air marshal of Dominican descent. The EEOC awarded the marshal back pay and a promotion, saying the supervisor sabotaged him by giving him poor reviews solely because of his background. The supervisor had instead nominated two white marshals for the promotion — one who was drastically less qualified and one who had been suspended after his gun and badges were stolen.
The air marshal who wrote to Sens. George Lemieux and Bill Nelson also claimed that, after a judge had ruled that the office had discriminated against a Hispanic agent, supervisors ignored the judge's orders to post the ruling in the office. He also said they delayed replacing the photos of President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff with those of President Obama, Vice President Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano after the Obama administration took office.
Although TSA says Reese, the leader of the office, is resigning for personal reasons, air marshals that work in the office are reportedly taking it as a sign that life in the Federal Air Marshals Service will improve.