The dress code for federal air marshals has been modified, apparently relegating a fashion spat to the back of the Homeland Security closet.
The issue of what the marshals wear when flying on jetliners put a wrinkle in the public relations image of the Department of Homeland Security last year.
The 24,000-member Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association protested that the dress code could blow the cover of air marshals, making it easier for terrorists to identify them. Department officials said the concerns were overblown.
Accounts vary on what the air marshals were ordered to wear, but the department apparently wanted them to project a professional image, and some agents believed they were being forced into suit coats, ties and dress shoes. Officials said the policy did not require coats and ties.
Regardless, the association contended that the department's dress code made it difficult for the marshals, known as FAMs, to look like regular travelers, who increasingly board jets in jeans, loose-fitting shirts and tennis shoes.
"This new adaptation to our present policy just fine-tunes it a little more on what clothing air marshals can wear to blend in," Brian Doyle, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said yesterday.
"The dress code policy has not been eliminated but broadens the scope of what the FAMs can wear," he said.
Because of security concerns, Doyle said he could not discuss particulars of the "minor changes" in the fashion policy for FAMs. He said the changes were made at the direction of Thomas D. Quinn, director of the Federal Air Marshal Service.
The revised dress code was disclosed by the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association in its current magazine, which is sent to association members. The magazine reports that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff "implemented certain policy changes that are geared towards protecting the anonymity of all FAMs."
Art Gordon, the association's president, thanks Chertoff in the magazine, saying that the dress code was "abolished" after Chertoff met in April with association representatives.
"Now the FAMs can finally blend in with the 'flying public' they have been sworn to protect," Gordon writes.
John Amat, the association's spokesman, said the group has not had any complaints from marshals about the dress code since May.
Doyle said that for the association to attribute the dress code changes to Chertoff "is a broad brushstroke on their part," since Quinn revised the policy.
The government had about 30 air marshals on duty Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists hijacked jetliners and slammed them into the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Officials would not say how many marshals are on the payroll today, citing security concerns.
Union Inspectors to Stay in Union
The American Federation of Government Employees will continue to represent about 70 import inspectors that the Agriculture Department had deemed no longer eligible for union membership, according to a decision by the Chicago regional director of the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
The department had sought to exclude the inspectors from the union on national security grounds, but the FLRA found that their work does not have "a clear and direct connection to national security." The department has 60 days to study the case to see whether it can find grounds for an appeal.
The import inspectors go into warehouses to ensure that food imports were properly inspected overseas and sometimes test products entering the nation, said Peter F. Winch, a union official.
AFGE represents about 5,000 Agriculture Department food inspectors, consumer safety inspectors and food technologists.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, and Larry Adkins, NTEU deputy general counsel, will be the guests on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on Federalnewsradio.com and WFED (1050 AM).
Vance Hitch, chief information officer at the Justice Department, will be the guest on "The IBM Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. Saturday on WJFK (106.7 FM).
"Getting Checks to the Military, Retirees and the Disabled" will be the topic of discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL (1450 AM).