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Project on Government Oversight

Email Goof Exposes Whistleblower Problems at FAMS

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December 8, 2008

POGO has obtained an email--mistakenly sent from the Deputy Director of the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) to a former FAMS Security Assistant--that raises serious concerns about the agency's attitude toward whistleblower retaliation.

On November 27th, Richard Hoskins--a former FAMS Security Assistant whose experience was highlighted in a recent POGO report, Breaking the Sound Barrier: Experiences of Air Marshals Confirm Need for Reform at the OSC--sent FAMS Director Robert Bray an email requesting that Bray work with air marshals who have filed formal and informal complaints against FAMS and who are interested in getting rehired.

Shortly thereafter, Hoskins received an emailfrom FAMS Deputy Director Robert Byers, apparently intended for Bray, in which Byers expresses his wish to cut off Bray from any contact with federal air marshals:

Our preference is that you pass this type of correspondence to O'Hare and me for research and response and that you, as the Director, remain insulated.

We'll probably craft a short response over your signature "thanks for taking the time to write, etc" and note that you have asked your Chief of Staff to look into whatever matter they are writing about, and then we'll write a detailed response if appropriate over Kevin's or an AD's signature.

Realizing his mistake, Byers sent a follow-up email apologizing to Hoskins, but did not address the more disturbing question of why he is providing a filter for Bray, who has publicly spoken out about his efforts to dialogue with air marshals as a way to strengthen FAMS.

"When I accidentally received an email reply from Bob Byers in response to my email to Director Bray the first thought that came to me was 'It is a shame that Senior Management feels the need to be insulate the Director from a systemic problem,'" Hoskins told POGO in an email.

With similar concerns in mind, P. Jeffrey Black, a federal air marshal from the Las Vegas field office, wrote to POGO in an email: "We were hopeful that Director Bray was sincere in his recent statement to the workforce that he wanted to openly embrace whistleblowers like Mr. Hoskins who root out misconduct and corruption in the agency, but it now appears that is not the case, and its business as usual in the Federal Air Marshal Service."

Last week, POGO wrote to Bray outlining a number of actions he could take to "demonstrate that [he] will protect dissenting voices, thus encouraging air marshals to come forward with crucial information." Although Bray has not yet responded, POGO is discouraged by what appears to be an effort at FAMS to create a firewall around the Director in order to prevent air marshals from making contact.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.