Federal Faces: Daniel E. Liddell focuses on airport safety

February 4, 2013

Name: Daniel E. Liddell

Position: Federal security director, Transportation Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security

Best known for: Most people think of airport security as a walk through the metal detector and the eyeballing of passengers and their possessions by transportation security officers. Liddell, whose job is to protect the flying public at seven airports in central New York, sees the role of a security officer as far more complex.

The former Marine, in fact, has written a book that is used to train security personnel. It’s called the “National Standardization Guide to Improving Security Effectiveness.” Tasks at each duty area have been inventoried and catalogued. The “knowledge, values and skills” associated with airport security jobs have been identified under what Liddell describes as a systems approach to training, and this approach has been replicated at 30 U.S. airports. Central to Liddell’s philosophy is not only using technology, such as X-ray machines and explosives trace-detection equipment and having the correct rules and procedures in place, but focusing on people’s skills.

Security officers are tested covertly. A banned item will be sent through a checkpoint and the reaction is monitored. Everyone at that checkpoint then participates in an “after-action” review. From there, problems are analyzed and employees can be given additional training.

Liddell understands that airport security personnel perform multiple tasks under constant camera surveillance and public scrutiny, often interacting with tired or irritated travelers. But he said that he thinks the testing and training help security officers stay sharp.

Government service: Liddell has been a federal security director for the past decade and previously served in the Marine Corps for 23 years.

Motivation for service: Liddell is energized by the notion of continuously improving the performance of those whose job it is to maintain security at U.S. airports. Both of his parents were in education, and he, too, teaches others how to do their jobs effectively.

Biggest challenge: Finding the right balance between his agency’s mission of effective security and efficient freedom of movement for people and commerce using the nation’s transportation systems is a constant challenge. No one wants to go to the airport and wait 60 minutes to get through security, he said, but people do want a safe flight.

Quote: “People performance is the cornerstone” of security, he said. “When I set out to improve things, I look at the people. I look at their proficiency, their skill in doing something and how well they’re doing that job.”

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