Air Marshal Fired for Revealing Info Deemed “Sensitive” After He Revealed It

Saturday, June 27, 2009
Robert MacLean

In a ruling that has major ramifications for government whistleblowers, an obscure federal employment review board decided this week that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was justified in firing a veteran air marshal for revealing highly sensitive information that was not classified as such until after it was disclosed.

In 2003 air marshal Robert MacLean told the media of TSA’s plan to remove air marshals from long-distance flights in order to save money—even though the order came as a time of heightened alerts of potential terrorism attacks. MacLean’s disclosure resulted in Congress taking TSA leaders to task, and in the 10-year law enforcement officer being fired for revealing the agency’s plans to cut back on protection for commercial flights. TSA argued that MacLean should have known he was disclosing “sensitive security information” despite the fact that it was not labeled accordingly. MacLean appealed his dismissal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, claiming his actions were legal under the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). The board disagreed and upheld the firing.
Government Accountability Project legal director Tom Devine said the board’s ruling renders the Whistleblower Protection Act “dead.” He added: “The MacLean decision means government agencies can fire employees for any disclosure otherwise protected by the WPA. The decision reduces the WPA to a voluntary guideline that agencies can cancel at will by issuing blanket gag regulations.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff
A Shrill Message for Whistleblowers (by Nick Schwellenbach, Center for Public Integrity)
MSPB Ruling Guts Whistleblower Protection Act (Government Accountability Project)
Robert J. MacLean v. Department of Homeland Security (U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board)
Robert MacLean (Wikipedia)


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