The most famous guy on the edge of his seat this week may be Frank Serpico, the legendary NYPD cop who blew the whistle on police corruption in the ’70s (and had Al Pacino play him in the movie).

But Ladera Ranch’s Robert MacLean– the federal air marshal who was axed from his cop-in-the-sky job after letting the world know about an ill-conceived plan to remove federal air marshals from long distance flights in 2003 (to save money on hotel bills, just days after a terrifying suicide hijacking alert) may have far more at stake.

After more than a decade of frustrations, a new whistle-blower protection law is tantalizingly close to passage in Washington, D.C. – one which would be a game-changer:

  • It would grant people like MacLean access to regular courts, where their actions could be judged by juries of their peers, rather than by panels of insiders and bureaucrats;
  • It would protect scientists from government censorship;
  • It would go far toward helping people like MacLean get their jobs back;
  • And do a whole lot of other stuff.

The new Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act has passed in the U.S. Senate and is being fast-tracked in the U.S. House of Representatives, where will be heard either today or Thursday.

While one important whistle-blowers’ group is against it, saying it doesn’t go far enough and fearing it could erode current protections, Serpico, MacLean and more than two dozen other high-profile whistle-blowers have signed a letter urging its approval, and maligning that group’s motives. (Read that letter here: whistle-blower-sign-on-letter.)

The urgency now is political: The new, more conservative Congress arriving after the new year is not expected to look kindly on new whistle-blower protections. So there’s an urgent push to have the House adopt the Senate version, so the thing can be signed into law.

The new act would save taxpayers money, increase transparency and better protect those who are trying to protect the public, supporters argue.

“After a 12 year political gauntlet, this is almost a miracle,” said Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project (and MacLean’s attorney). “This will leave whistle-blowers with far stronger rights than ever before in history. It’s not an A-plus, but you don’t get A-pluses in Washington, D.C.”

MacLean has been challenging his termination for years, hoping at each step of the tortured legal process that someone might see things his way: He acted to protect the public, not endanger it. He was hero, not villain.

Rulings have gone against him again and again. The new law wouldn’t undo all that, but would open up new avenues that could restore his job.

That, he has said, is all he really wants.