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Federal air marshals dissatisfied with jobs

From Patty Davis and Beth Lewandowski
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Air marshals are increasingly dissatisfied with their jobs, the head of a federal workers union said Thursday.

"We're hearing most of the people are dissatisfied," said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents border patrol agents.

Bonner estimated 90 percent of the 700 border patrol agents who have become air marshals are unhappy with the long work hours, the lack of overtime pay and a requirement that they wear business attire, which "makes them stick out like a sore thumb."

Bonner said the air marshals should be represented by a union.

USA Today reported Thursday the air marshal program is in disarray and that as many as 80 air marshals have resigned. It also reported that air marshals no longer have to pass a critical marksmanship skills test.

But the Transportation Department denies the program is in trouble.

Spokesman Leonardo Alcivar told CNN there have not been 80 resignations, though he said some people have left.

"The level of attrition is minuscule and not in any way a concern," Alcivar said. "We need for people to be weeded out as part of any organization."

He said the air marshal program is working as planned: "There are more marshals on more flights conducting more missions in more countries than ever before. Americans should have confidence with their being in the air."

Alcivar also said the marksmanship test has not been done away with, "We changed the process and moved that aspect of training to later."

He said some new marshals may fly before passing the test in order to train more people in the basic skills they need.

Alcivar said air marshals are more highly trained in shooting skills than Secret Service agents.

The Transportation Department said it is investigating a few incidents involving air marshals.

In one, a manager stopped an air marshal from boarding a flight in Washington because he smelled of alcohol. In two incidents, air marshals accidentally discharged their guns -- one in a hotel room.

In addition, the Transportation Department said one air marshal left his gun in an airplane bathroom on a United Airlines flight from Washington to Las Vegas. A passenger found the weapon. The air marshal was suspended.

About 200,000 people applied to become air marshals as the federal government moved to increase security aboard flights after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The pace of hiring has picked up, but the Transportation Department will not reveal exact numbers because it says the figures are considered highly sensitive.




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