- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

A former Transportation Department inspector general says the Federal Air Marshals Service apparently is inflating the number of flights it protects while reducing the number of flying officers, repeating failures that left only 33 marshals employed on September 11.

Mary Schiavo, who headed the investigative office from 1990 to 1996, said the previous operator of FAMS, the Federal Aviation Administration, began slashing the number of marshals in the 1980s and “robbed” the funding for general budget items.

“This is more of the same: They are betting that under the sensitive secure information guidelines, no one would ever find out because they made it all secret,” said Ms. Schiavo, who resigned from the FAA after blowing the whistle on lax airport and airplane security.

In the 1990s, FAA officials steadily reduced the ranks of air marshals, maintaining the “impression” of security was the main deterrent to terrorists, and used the money for other things, she said in an interview with The Washington Times.

“They said, ‘Look, people don’t know how many [marshals] there are.’ It’s the appearance, the impression that matters. The government’s opinion was, it’s OK to lie about it.”

The number of air marshals and which flights they protect is classified as “sensitive security information,” but unclassified reports obtained by The Washington Times indicate that currently fewer than 10 percent of flights have armed agents aboard. And several marshals say that number is inflated to dupe Congress into believing its mandates for protecting commercial air travel have been met.

“This was supposed to change after September 11, but it doesn’t look like it has. It’s like September 11 never happened,” said Ms. Schiavo, who is now a lawyer with the South Carolina firm of Motley Rice. She represents passengers and crews involved in air crashes, including some victims of the September 11 attacks.

The air marshal ranks swelled to nearly 4,000 after the September 11 attacks, but based on the number of guns issued, several marshals estimate only 2,200 marshals are available to protect 30,800 daily domestic and international flights.

FAMS spokesman Dave Adams said Congress approved another $50 million this year for new hires and some promotions have been made, and that they expect more hires in the next few months.

“Both the Congress and Homeland [Security] Department know our figures and percentage of flights that we’re on, and we’re not manipulating our figures at all,” Mr. Adams said.

“We have not been under the Transportation Department in several years, so [Ms. Schiavo’s] knowledge does not really reflect the present-day FAMS program.”

Ms. Schiavo’s views on the safety of ValueJet before a crash in July 1996 led to some congressional criticism and demands to review her records. After resigning, she wrote a book on airport safety titled “Flying Blind, Flying Safe.”

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