Today the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a decision in MacLean v. Department of Homeland Security. In 2003, Robert MacLean blew the whistle on the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Agency’s (TSA) plan to remove U.S. air marshals from long distance flights during a heightened terrorist alert. Mr. MacLean was concerned that the suspension of overnight missions created a danger to the flying public. He complained to his supervisor and to the Office of Inspector General; both responded that they could do nothing.
Mr. MacLean then gave information to a MSNBC reporter about the TSA’s plan. The reporter published an article criticizing the plan. The TSA withdrew its plan after criticism from the public and members of Congress. The TSA subsequently fired Mr. MacLean.
A major issue on appeal from the Merit Systems Protection Board (“MSPB”), was whether or not Mr. MacLean was covered under the Whistleblower Protection Act (“WPA”). Specifically, the WPA prohibits individuals in positions of authority from taking a “personnel action” against a government employee when the employee makes a disclosure, which the employee reasonable believes to evidence a “substantial and specific danger to public health and safety, if such disclosure is not specifically prohibited by law.” The Court of Appeals held that MacLean’s disclosure was “not specifically prohibited by law.”
The Court vacated the MSPB decision which upheld Mr. MacLean’s termination and remanded the case back to the MSPB to determine whether MacLean’s “disclosure qualifies for WPA protection.” The MSPB must determine whether Mr. MacLean “reasonable believed” his disclosure evidenced a “substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.”
Read the Court of Appeals decision here.