Friday, January 6, 2006

The director of the Federal Air Marshal Service last night submitted his resignation letter effective Feb. 3, saying he intended to retire from the agency he has headed since it was transferred to the Homeland Security Department in 2003.

“I am proud of the men and women of the FAMS and salute you for your dedication and performance in fulfilling our mission,” Thomas Quinn said in a memo issued just after 6 p.m.

“The leadership provided by the management team in the FAMS field offices, divisions, and headquarters has been exemplary. I leave knowing that the Federal Air Marshal Service is an effective, competent Federal Law Enforcement Organization that will continue to be an important contributor to the security of the homeland. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve you, this country, and this President,” Mr. Quinn said.

Mr. Quinn was appointed to lead the agency after the September 11 terrorist attacks. He increased the marshal strength from 33 agents to more than 2,000.

“He is going to start enjoying life,” said Dave Adams, the agency spokesman, noting the director’s fondness for motorcycles.

“He is still going to be working until the 3rd, and there are several other initiatives he is committed to fulfilling,” Mr. Adams said.

Mr. Quinn opened 21 field offices across the nation to staff the marshals needed to defend the nation’s air travel system against terrorist attack, but came under widespread criticism and a congressional and internal probe regarding several agency policies.

The Washington Times reported last week that a certain percentage of air marshal positions would be given to airport screeners as a means for job advancement, which angered some in the elite service, as most marshals come from a law-enforcement background.

Several air marshals said the morale is so low in the agency that many of them are leaving for the Border Patrol, which received congressional funding to hire 1,700 new agents this year.

“There just might be hope for this agency after all,” a marshal from the Las Vegas field office said upon hearing of the resignation.

More than a dozen marshals were investigated or punished for speaking out against policies they said endangered themselves and the flying public. Those marshals included Don Strange, the agent in charge of the Atlanta field office, who was fired for refusing to enforce the dress code.

Marshals said the dress code made them conspicuous. Congressional pressure forced the agency to relax the code last year along with a hotel policy that left the agents vulnerable.

The agency also was criticized for grounding agents nationwide on the eve of President Bush’s inauguration last year because of 1 inch of snow in the D.C. area.

The agency is also part of an inspector general’s investigation for covering up the handling of a flight two years ago in which 14 Syrian passengers are suspected of having conducted a terrorist probe.

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