Federal air marshals are experiencing health and personal problems related to their irregular work schedules, a long-running concern aggravated by a 2018 change in the agency’s deployment strategy, GAO has said.
That change, designed to expand coverage of certain high-risk missions, resulted in a more than doubling of the changes to schedules on short notice, typically no more than three days in advance, a report said. Air marshals are expected to be available to work as needed, 24 hours a day.
“Air marshals in all six offices we visited stated that health issues are a key quality of life concern. The most common health issues air marshals raised in discussion sessions with us were extreme fatigue, mental health issues, difficulty maintaining a healthy diet, and increased frequency of illness,” GAO said. Other issues included difficulties in planning and attending family events, maintaining personal relationships, obtaining childcare, and scheduling doctor’s visits for themselves and their children, it said.
The Federal Air Marshal Service has guidelines on matters such as shift length and rest periods but “does not monitor the extent to which air marshals’ actual work hours are consistent with guidelines because it has not identified a need to do so. As a result, it cannot determine how frequently air marshals work beyond guidelines and is not well-positioned to manage risks associated with long work hours,” it said.
The FAMS has taken steps to assess individuals’ health, such as requiring medical exams, “but has not comprehensively assessed the overall health of its workforce and has not developed a plan to do so,” GAO said, though the FAMS is researching how it could.