TSA has sent air marshals to assist with increased migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

TSA has sent air marshals to assist with increased migration at the U.S.-Mexico border. Getty Images / ElFlacodelNorte

TSA hasn’t assessed whether deploying air marshals to the border negatively impacts air security, IG says

The agency has been providing air marshals to assist at the border since 2019.

The Transportation Security Administration cannot assess the impact on air security caused by sending air marshals to assist with increased migration at the southwest border, according to an inspector general report published on July 2. 

That’s because the agency does not have baseline goals for measuring the effectiveness of the Federal Air Marshal Service’s “primary, day-to-day operations” nor did it conduct a risk assessment to gauge the effect that air marshal deployments to the border would have on transportation security. 

“Without establishing performance measures and assessing risks related to deploying air marshals, TSA cannot assure deployments did not impact FAMS’ mission to mitigate potential risks and threats to our nation’s transportation system,” the report said. 

In 2019, TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection — both agencies under the Homeland Security Department — entered into agreements under which air marshals, who provide security during flights, assist at the border. Some of their duties include escorting migrants, conducting searches and securing CBP facilities, according to the report.

There have been 1,114 air marshals deployed to the southwest border between 2019 and 2023, according to the report. 

CBP has reimbursed TSA approximately $45 million in travel and payroll costs related to such assistance from May 2019 to August 2023.  

The DHS Office of Inspector General recommended that FAMS perform a risk assessment to determine the effect that deployments to the border have on air marshal operations. 

TSA concurred with the recommendation and said it would complete it by Aug. 30, but objected to the report’s “inference that the agency does not conduct any pre-deployment operational assessments or consider operational impacts to transportation security when deploying federal air marshals” to the southwest border.  

“[Air marshal] executives and managers continually monitor and assess risks and threats, and adjust operations and federal air marshal deployments,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske wrote in a letter accompanying the report. “While the OIG may disagree with how those assessments are defined and accomplished, or finds the documentation insufficient, FAMS does systematically and thoroughly conduct daily operational assessments.” 

Investigators did analyze flight data from Jan. 1, 2016, to Aug. 31, 2023, and found no evidence that border deployments impacted the number of flights with air marshals on board. However, in July 2023, they also surveyed individuals who were sent to the border, and those responses indicate that they felt their assignment did negatively affect flight coverage. (Specific survey data was redacted for being “sensitive security information.”) 

DHS has significantly increased the number of its employees at the southwest border to implement President Joe Biden’s June executive order that largely prevents individuals from seeking asylum.