Newark TSA Official `Coerced' to Quit

Grandinetti's statements are the first on-the-record confirmation that his departure was connected to the promotion scandal that gripped the security staff at Newark Liberty earlier this year.

A high-ranking federal security official who quit in January after an accusation that he leaked test questions to a candidate being considered for a manager's post at Newark Liberty International Airport contends he was "coerced into resigning" by his top supervisor, according to legal papers filed in the case.

Gerard A. Grandinetti said Mark O. Hatfield Jr., the airport's federal security director, accused him in a Jan. 19 confrontation of giving a favored subordinate some of the questions that were to be part of an upcoming oral exam. Although Grandinetti professed his innocence, he said Hatfield unfairly pressed him to quit immediately.

"I asked him, `What do you think I should do?' And he (Hatfield) said, `You should probably resign and it won't go any further,'" Grandinetti said in legal documents in which he appeals his ouster from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

Grandinetti's statements are the first on-the-record confirmation that his departure was connected to the promotion scandal that gripped the security staff at Newark Liberty earlier this year. In fact, they are the first public confirmation that there even was a scandal, though it was reported in two stories by The Star-Ledger in January.

Although Grandinetti subsequently withdrew his appeal, the legal papers provide a rare documented glimpse inside a major controversy at the hub, where TSA has had embarrassing disclosures of security problems since taking over from private contractors in 2002.

"To get him (Hatfield) to leave my office, I said that I would resign," continued Grandinetti in the brief. "And then he said, `Do the (resignation) letter now because I need the letter before I leave the room.'"

Grandinetti said he was devastated by Hatfield's "unmistakable insinuation that I would be terminated" from TSA, the agency responsible for safeguarding the nation's airports after 9/11. At the time, Grandinetti, then 53, was assistant security director in charge of screening at Newark Liberty, earning $112,300 in the third-highest TSA post at the hub.

The allegations were contained in a February filing with the U.S. Merit System Protection Board, a filing obtained by The Star-Ledger under provisions of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Hatfield's name was blacked out in the filing, but TSA officials privately confirmed Grandinetti was referring to Hatfield.

Grandinetti's filing contrasted sharply with a farewell e-mail he sent to employees on Jan. 19 informing them of his resignation.

In the e-mail, according to a TSA employee who read the note, Grandinetti said his departure "might not be the right time," but "for me the sunshine is calling, and my personal life needs a lot of attention. I know I leave with everything in order, so on that note, I am very happy." Grandinetti came to the airport in 2002 and rose up the ranks to become a top lieutenant to Hatfield before his ouster. He supervised checkpoint and bomb-detection machine operations at Newark Liberty, and helped to coordinate TSA's hiring, promotions and training initiatives. He is an Air Force veteran, and his federal service included work with the Department of Defense.

Citing unnamed federal officials, the newspaper reported in January that Grandinetti had resigned because of the promotion scandal, which scuttled an exam for 40 candidates seeking seven open managerial posts. At the time, Hatfield told the newspaper Grandinetti "chose to resign for personal reasons" and would not elaborate.

A TSA internal affairs probe has been ongoing at the airport for three months since Grandinetti's resignation to determine if anyone leaked test questions to other candidates for the jobs. Thus far, no other employees have been disciplined in connection with the incident, according to TSA officials.

The promotion process is being redone and the posts have yet to be filled.

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