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For prominent TSA whistleblower, it's all about integrity

In our last entry, we turned the spotlight on internal strife that seems prevalent at the Transportation Security Administration. There are major concerns being raised about whether a culture exists within the agency that fosters an attitude of management retaliation against employees who speak out about problems.

If you happen to read that post and then peruse The New York Times article that inspired it, you will come across the name Robert J. MacLean. He perhaps epitomizes what illegal retaliatory action and what personal integrity looks like.

Others laud MacLean as one with integrity in spades. He joined the TSA in the wake of 9/11, having served a stint in the Air Force and as an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol. A couple of experiences early on at the TSA sowed seeds of concern in him, but one event proved to be the capper.

In 2003, three days after the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning that a terrorist hijacking could be imminent, air marshal leaders announced on-flight patrols would be scaled back to cut costs. MacLean raised concerns internally. When nothing meaningful happened, he went to the media anonymously. The cutbacks were canceled.

Two years later, MacLean blew the whistle on a department dress code that required marshals to wear sport coats and dress shirts on the job. His concern was that marshals would stand out like sore thumbs. Internal efforts to change the policy failed, so he went to the media again.

This time he was revealed as the source and he admitted to being the source on the 2003 cutback issue. In 2006, the agency fired him.

MacLean fought for his job for the next 10 years, taking his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And he won. In a 7-2 ruling, the court cited the Merit Systems Protection Board for failing to grant MacLean whistleblower protection.

Every case is unique, perhaps none more so than MacLean's. And every federal employee who faces retaliation for honest reporting deserves experienced legal advocacy.

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