If managing the size, scope, and geographic dispersion of the Office of Field Operations sounds challenging, Tischler agrees: "we have a complex mission that includes enforcing over...600 laws for about 40 different agencies." In addition to Customs-specific regulations, the service also "enforce[s] laws for...the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the Drug Enforcement Administration."
The U.S. Customs Service ensures that all the nationís exports and imports comply with U.S. laws and regulations. Customs has an extensive investigative air, land, and marine force and an intelligence branch. In a typical day, Customs will examine 3.1 million passengers, make 322 arrests, and seize 4,302 pounds of narcotics and approximately $1.3 million in goods. The Office of Field Operations is organized in layers, with the ports of entry handling frontline enforcement, the Investigations Field Office administering and managing all enforcement, and the Customs Management Centers overseeing the ports and field offices within their jurisdiction.
Tischler started with the U.S. Customs Service in 1971 as a sky marshal, where her responsibility was to "ride airplanes and keep them safe from hijackers...I was hired in 1971 just as the government changed their attitudes towards women in law enforcement...Customs was the first federal agency to hire women [who could carry firearms]." Tischler remarks that being a woman in law enforcement at that time was difficult: "When women started out in the federal sector, in law enforcement positions, there were so many...stories floating around. How could you possibly be out on surveillance with a female> People would question whether or not you were actually watching the event...Could a woman handle a gun? Would she back you up in terms of a raid or some other enforcement activity?"
Despite the adversity she faced, Tischler was promoted within the Customs Service. However, she was not a first-line supervisor: "It was during a time frame where I was bypassed for a first-line supervisory job, so I worked around it. I became a program manager and then a branch chief, which, which was a first-line supervisor but not out in the field." In fact, Tischler has held man positions at the Customs Service, including Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) investigator, criminal investigator, special agent in charge, and assistant commissioner for the Office of Investigations.
Tischler credits these positions with the evolution of a management style that is both demanding and simple. "Iíve developed [a] reputation for honesty and being out front and pretty much telling it like it is, although Iíve...softened up the edges and become more diplomatic. But I still am a strong believer in [being forthright], and I have no patience for people who work for me who blow a lot of smoke." She explains.
Since 1977, Tischler has worked to solve another challenging personnel and resource issue in federal law enforcement: the glass ceiling. "I had a concept in 1977 that was based on meeting a number of women in federal law enforcement. Women had just come on in 1971 and here it was six years later, and they werenít getting anywhere...They were all having significant problems in terms of details, training, and getting promoted," Tischler recalls. "I went over [to the Office of Personnel Management] and we put a committee together that wanted to ...explore why women were having obstacle problems within the criminal investigations area." The original committee has grown and changed into another organization: the Interagency Committee on Women in Law Enforcement. She hopes that the work of the committee will pave the way for women today, so that they can "shoot for something a little beyond the next rung in the ladder. But itís easier for women now that they know that I- and others like me- am out in front of them and have already broken the ground for them."
In the future, Tischler hopes that both men and women will continue to be drawn to public service: "The public sector offers satisfaction to people who feel, like I do, that youíre the cutting edge, that you can change things, and that you can change things, and that you canít complain unless youíre willing to try to change things."