Report cites air marshals for sexism, harassment

Federal air marshals are the last line of defense against terrorists in the sky, but agency employees tell of major problems on the ground, including supervisors who mistreat them. CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian got an advance look at a new government report - to be released to the public Thursday -- on the agency.

The 112-page Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General's report, titled "Allegations of Misconduct and Illegal Discrimination and Retaliation in the Federal Air Marshal Service," and obtained by CBS News, offers a contradictory view of a federal agency in charge of protecting the flying public.

The report -- the result of a two-year investigation into allegations of discrimination and retaliation within the service -- found "Federal Air Marshals repeatedly portrayed their supervisors as vindictive, aggressive, and guilty of favoritism."

In addition:

*Thirty-three percent of the female employees surveyed believed they had been discriminated against.

*A total of 454 formal or informal equal opportunity complaints were filed by employees between Sept 2006 and April 2011.

*"...employees perceptions of discrimination and retaliation are extensive..."

Despite all this, the report concluded "...our review does not support a finding of widespread discrimination and retaliation."

Senator Bill Nelson of Florida is one of the members of Congress, along with Rep. Darrell Issa and Rep. Edolphus Towns,  who called for the investigation.

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"If there is a lack of professionalism, especially among law enforcement-type folks, then that should be corrected and corrected immediately," he said.

Issa, who is the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said: "This is a disturbing and dysfunctional situation. The finding of such low morale and the Inspector General's concern that many allegations by Air Marshals -- who are law enforcement officers charged with protecting passengers -- just aren't credible is disturbing. Passengers trust their lives to Air Marshals, I'm looking for more accountability than what I see in this report."

In February 2010, the Federal Air Marshal Service was the focus of a CBS News investigation. Craig Sawyer was one of nearly two dozen current or former air marshals who told us the agency is dominated by an "old boys" club of white male supervisors, mainly ex-Secret Service agents.

Watch the CBS News report on air marshals from February 2010 below:

"The culture of this management was to demean and demoralize their agents rather than to support them," said Sawyer.

The independent investigative news outlet Pro Publica also reported on the issue around that same time.

CBS News' investigation found problems in at least 14 field offices. In Orlando, a board was posted on a wall where managers allegedly used derogatory code words to refer to homosexuals, African-Americans and veterans -- employees who would be harassed or get undesirable assignments.

In a statement Tuesday, the Air Marshal Service said it has already taken steps to implement the Inspector General's recommendations. While the report noted the issues do not appear to have compromised the agency's mission, what's remarkable here is it exposes problems inside an agency known for its secrecy.

  • Armen Keteyian

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