TSA Head: After Air Marshal Allegations ‘People Were Fired’
(WASHINGTON) -- The head of the Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday that people were fired after an investigation into allegations of sexism, bigotry and incompetence in the Federal Air Marshal Service -- charges described in a government report obtained by ABC News.
"In terms of addressing those issues, obviously, a number of personnel changes were made," TSA Administrator John Pistole told reporters Wednesday. "Several people were fired. Some people resigned. New management was brought in in several locations to address both the perception and the reality of the situation."
Pistole's comments came after an ABC News Nightline report Tuesday evening, which featured the findings from an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General's Office into several instances of alleged misconduct at the Federal Air Marshal Service.
Current and former air marshals told ABC News employees with the service regularly made fun of blacks, Latinos and gays, took taxpayer-paid trips to visit families and vacation spots, and acted like a "bunch of school kid punks."
Former air marshal Steve Theodoropoulos said he was working in the Orlando air marshal office when he witnessed a, "distorted air marshal Jeopardy game board" with classifications that were racial slurs aimed at minority and gay air marshals.
"Category 'pickle smokers' was directly aimed at gay males," he said of the board, which he discovered in a training room at the air marshal office in Orlando. The air marshals say it was removed in 2009.
Other categories included "Our Gang" for African-Americans, "Geraldo Rivera" for Latinos, and "Ellen DeGeneres" for gay female air marshals.
One of the five women listed on the board later tried to commit suicide, according to Theodoropoulos and other air marshals familiar with the case.
Air marshals who were military veterans were listed as "Operators" because they were often called away for training and perceived to be shirking their flight assignments.
"Anybody that's not like them, they're against," said Theodoropoulos. "I mean, how do you operate under those conditions?"
In another case, a marshal was photographed apparently asleep on a plane -- with a loaded pistol -- in 2006.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D.-Florida, who ordered the investigation in 2010, said the unprofessionalism could be a security risk.
"This behavior went well over the line," he said. "Sooner or later, if you do not have people operating at peak efficiency, then you take the risk of that a terrorist is going to get away with his dirty deed."
The Inspector General's report is scheduled to be made public on Thursday, but according to an advance copy obtained by ABC News, the investigation found, "a great deal of tension, mistrust and dislike between non-supervisory and supervisory personnel in field offices around the country."
It concludes that the allegations, perceived and real, "posed a difficult challenge for the agency" but, according to a survey of air marshals, "do not appear to have compromised the service's mission."
The survey found that 76 percent of air marshals asked said, "people they work with cooperate to get the job done."
But the Inspector General also warned that "these allegations add unnecessary distraction at all levels at a time when mission tempo is high and many in the agency are becoming increasingly concerned about workforce burnout and fatigue."
Pistole told ABC News Tuesday that security was "absolutely not" compromised by the behavior of some air marshals.
"TSA took a proactive approach to the issues raised and has developed and implemented solutions ahead of the conclusion of the investigation," the TSA said in a statement in response to the ABC News report.
However other air marshals, still working undercover on flights and unable to reveal their names publicly, alleged that managers regularly scheduled themselves on flights so they could visit family or vacation spots.
In one example, the air marshals provided a photograph of a manager who arranged to fly to Brussels at Christmas time, and then jumped a fence to sit next to the Baby Jesus in a nativity crèche in the city's main square.
Former federal air marshal Theodoropoulos has had his own issues, stemming from an altercation with a bartender that led to his dismissal from the air marshals after a 20-year career in law enforcement.
He and his union say the government used a relatively minor incident as a way to get rid of a whistleblower and send a message to other air marshals to keep quiet.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio