Newark TSA Official `Coerced' to Quit

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.

In his MSPB filing, Grandinetti also contended that shortly after he resigned, he regretted the move and asked for his old job back but was rebuffed.

"The agency coerced me into resigning involuntarily," his filing says. "I attempted to withdraw my involuntary resignation, but the agency refused to accept the withdrawal of my involuntary resignation. . . . The agency constructively removed me without giving me any of the due process rights to which I am entitled."


Barbara Powell, who was serving as acting federal security director on Jan. 31 because Hatfield was attending a national conference, wrote the letter rejecting Grandinetti's request for reinstatement.

A copy of Powell's letter that day was included with Grandinetti's MSPB filing. While Powell's name was blacked out, it listed her title "acting federal security director" and noted the federal security director's absence.

"I decline to cancel the referenced separation action (resignation) for the following reasons: 1.) Your decision was not coerced; and 2.) You had ample time in which to make your decision," Powell wrote to Grandinetti.

Hatfield and the TSA declined to specifically comment on Grandinetti's charges.

"I'm going to take the high road here," said Hatfield, who took over the security helm at Newark Liberty in March 2006 following his predecessor's ouster. "We adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct and transparent process that comports with federal rules and regulations. I demand that of my staff, just as I demand it of myself."

Citing privacy laws, Ann Davis, a TSA spokeswoman, said the agency would not release any legal filings it made to MSPB in connection with Grandinetti's case. The TSA's filings were not part of the material released to the newspaper by MSPB under the freedom of information request. The paper has filed a new request for TSA's filings.

"TSA policy forbids discussion or comment on pending litigation," said Davis earlier this month before the case was officially closed. "Further, most documents pertaining to current and former employees are protected by the (federal) Privacy Act and, as such, cannot be released to the public."

Martin Kastner, Grandinetti's attorney, also declined to discuss the MSPB filing he submitted on his client's behalf or the decision to withdraw it.

"I really have no comment," said Kastner when reached by phone about the case. He also did not respond to a follow-up e-mail that sought comment from Grandinetti, whose current home address, age, e-mail address and phone numbers were unavailable.

Grandinetti declined to comment to the newspaper about the test scandal when reached on his government cell phone just days before he resigned.

Ron Marsico may be reached at or (973) 392-7860.