Federal Air Marshal program under scrutiny

In this April 13, 2018, photo, a Southwest Airlines plane taxis at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

WASHINGTON (SBG) - At 40,000 feet, stopping criminal activity can be tough. It’s one reason why after the terror attacks of 9/11 the Federal Air Marshal program, run by the Transportation Security Administration, was greatly expanded with manpower and training.

Its current budget is about $800 million a year.

While its main function is to deter attacks, a recent investigation by the Government Accountability Office found "TSA doesn’t have any information on its effectiveness in doing so."

“I think it's the most needless, useless agency in the whole federal government,” said Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., who has made no secret he wants to totally eliminate the program.

“We shouldn't just keep giving money to a program just because it has the word security attached to it, it should be doing some good,” Duncan said in an interview Thursday.

Reports show dozens of cases of Federal Air Marshals showing up to work drunk or drugged, and making very few arrests, with a ProPublica report finding “air marshals (themselves) were arrested 148 times from November 2002 to February 2012.”

The TSA calls it the last line of defense on commercial flights, saying in a statement that “Federal Air Marshals are a critical and successful part of TSA layered approach to transportation security and we continually review and assess how we deploy our resources."

According to terrorism experts, planes remain a prime target for terrorists. It’s one reason why critics of the Air Marshal program may have a tough time ending or even changing it.

"People are afraid if they do eliminate the program, but then if some terrorist action takes place then, that they could potentially be blamed," Duncan said.

Still, one factor impossible to determine is what kind of deterrent the program has been. Since 9/11, no airline-linked terror attack has occurred.

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