Allegations of bias at the Air Marshal Service

By Joe Davidson
Thursday, February 4, 2010

The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has urged Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and the department's inspector general to investigate allegations of widespread discrimination and retaliation in the agency.

In a letter to Napolitano on Tuesday, Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) cited numerous allegations from Federal Air Marshal Service field offices in Cincinnati and Orlando. One employee "alleges that investigators threatened to approach his family with accusations of an affair if he failed to change his testimony in support of an EEO complainant," Towns said. "If true, this conduct is entirely inappropriate, constitutes a clear abuse of authority by all those involved, and undermines Federal civil rights policies that promote equal employment opportunity."

Towns said that his office had been told of retaliation against potential witnesses and discrimination complaints filed by seven employees in the Cincinnati office and that the number of equal-employment-opportunity complaints in that office may be as high as 15. This would be a "startlingly high percentage" of the Cincinnati office's workforce, he said.

"Moreover, at least three employees in that office have allegedly been threatened with security clearance removal after filing an EEO complaint or testifying in support of a complainant," he wrote.

In a separate letter to Inspector General Richard L. Skinner, Towns said an employee has alleged that Orlando management "made a game of targeting African Americans, Hispanics, females, veterans, and men and women of alleged homosexual sexual orientation." Apparently referring to the same "game board" in the letter to Napolitano, Towns said it was "littered with exceptionally offensive material and used by Orlando office managers to harass minority employees."

Towns said the allegations, previously reported by CNN, "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."

Amy Kudwa, a spokeswoman for the department, said it is investigating the Orlando office. "We take all allegations of misconduct seriously," she said. "The Federal Air Marshal Service will continue to provide its full cooperation and support to the investigation."

Race and Interior

The Interior Department chapter of Blacks in Government recently released a critical report on the status of African Americans in the agency.

The group said an Office of Personnel Management study indicated that Interior was the only Cabinet-level agency falling below "relevant civilian labor force" representation for African Americans. The department also was alone in experiencing more departures of black employees than new hires.

Underrepresentation is "very acute at the upper management levels, which has shown no noticeable improvement over time," according to the group.

Though the report is dated August 2009, it was released for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday last month. It offered six recommendations holding supervisors accountable for reaching diversity goals by tying performance "to an evaluation and award system that is directly linked to compensation."

Secretary Ken Salazar "is committed to creating an inclusive government and one that is reflective of the face of America," said spokeswoman Julie Chavez Rodriguez.

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