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House lawmakers urge budget boost for air marshals

A group of congressional lawmakers believes the Federal Air Marshal Service needs a budget hike to keep pace with a projected surge in air travel and expanded security missions.

In a March 25 letter to House appropriators, Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and 14 House Democrats urged more funding for FAMS, which received $613 million in the Bush administration's fiscal 2005 budget, a $13 million cut from 2004 funding levels.

Without more funds, FAMS may be unable to help foreign governments develop their own air marshal programs, the lawmakers warned. Federal air marshals only fly on U.S.-based airlines.

"New FAMS initiatives, such as training to assist foreign governments in the establishment or enhancement of their own air marshal programs, could help reduce the likelihood of disruptions to international air travel when intelligence suggests that specific flights are being targeted by terrorists," the lawmakers wrote. David Adams, a FAMS spokesman, said the service supports the administration's budget proposal. According to Adams, the service has shared best practices with foreign governments and is exploring the possibility of offering training to foreign air marshals. FAMS also will host an international air marshal conference later this year.

Besides financing new programs, FAMS needs more funds to match an expected increase in air travel, the lawmakers said. Citing predictions from the Federal Aviation Administration, they said domestic flights would increase by more than 3 percent in fiscal 2005, while the number of international flights will go up by more than 5 percent during the same period.

To augment its staff, FAMS has begun training criminal investigators in the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, its parent agency, to serve as air marshals. In an interview with Government Executive last month, Thomas Quinn, director of FAMS, said the majority of ICE's 5,500 agents would receive air marshal training.

"It's not going to be limited to a specific small number of ICE agents; it's essentially going to be the majority of the organization over time," he said. Quinn added that FAMS would train at least 100 ICE agents as air marshals by the end of March.