Editor’s Note: As Executive Assistant Administrator for Enterprise Support for TSA, Kimberly Walton’s responsibilities include overseeing human resources, acquisitions and procurement, training, logistics and other critical enterprise support functions. Prior to this role, she served as the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Civil Rights and Liberties, Ombudsman and Traveler Engagement. In this Q&A, she reflects on TSA’s mission, current events and how the pandemic has affected her.
What part of the TSA mission do you feel most passionate about?
Fulfilling the commitment made after 9/11 to protect the traveling public is the hard work TSA performs each day. There can be no let up, no distraction, no losing focus. We are committed to our responsibilities in Enterprise Support (ES) to ensure frontline operations remain eyes forward and doing our jobs at the highest level is a significant factor for mission success. In our many areas of responsibility, ES enables TSA employees to feel supported, connected and with opportunities to confidently realize career goals and potential.
As we’ve experienced with COVID-19, being physically separated doesn’t remove the opportunity to connect. As the virus continued, another significant event emerged, also impacting the way we live and work.
Sparked by the death of George Floyd, cities and states across the country erupted with demonstrations and protests that focus on the issues of race and inequality in America. Like many, the death of Mr. Floyd, and that of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, left me heartbroken and outraged and I expressed those feelings to the ES workforce in my message in early June.
Discussing the imbalance of opportunity can generate strong emotions. However, because of the impact to all of us, having those conversations and working to eliminate inequity are so very important. Our commitment to diversity needs to be an active one; it is to celebrate our diverse backgrounds but to also continue the work necessary to achieve full inclusion. I firmly believe that diversity is one of our greatest strengths and my greatest hope is that we can channel our individual and collective feelings to affect meaningful change in ourselves, our workplace and our communities. The work we do requires we develop the best workforce to achieve our security mission. As I lead the more than 1,600 employees in Enterprise Support, communication, engagement and a commitment to diversity will continue to be key components to ensure we stay focused and ready.
What particular skill or talent of yours do you feel the COVID-19 crisis has allowed you to tap into? How have you been able to use that skill or talent for the good of TSA?
As some of the local restriction are lifted, we are left to wonder what a post-coronavirus world might look like. There’s a lot unknown about how the world will transform after we get the novel coronavirus under control, but it is extremely unlikely that things will just go back to exactly the way they were before. Which brings me to adaptability and flexibility.
Everyone needs to be able to adapt to ever-evolving workplaces and have the ability to continuously update and refresh their skills. I have always viewed myself as both flexible and adaptable to the environment. While I am not the most tech savvy person, I have always viewed technology as important and have adapted and acquired new technology skills, trying to become more resilient to future outbreaks and disruptions.
Have you had any time for relaxation during this unprecedented time? If so, what did you do?
My old hobby of photography got revisited. I have bird houses, bird feeders, and bird baths in my backyard but I really never have an opportunity to enjoy any of them. During this period, I have found my spotting scope, binoculars and dusted off my camera to capture the beautiful birds.
Is there anything you’ve learned about yourself through this crisis?
I’m not as much of an introvert as I thought I was … I really miss the daily interactions in the office and actually seeing people. I often shock people by video conferencing them rather than calling. It’s nice to see the facial reaction when talking to people.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your colleagues at this stage of the pandemic?
With so many uncertainties, it was essential to clearly and transparently communicate what was known and what was new, as scientists and doctors learned more about the spread and treatment of the virus. With several Enterprise Support programs providing critical support for all aspects of TSA’s operations, we took the opportunity to share this information directly with our workforce; retooled in some cases to relate more directly to the work we do. It has been and continues to be a priority to engage our employees with tools and information that enables them to maximize productivity and to cope through the changes experienced from being removed from what’s comforting and familiar.
Using virtual town halls and a series we called Enterprise Support Conversations, we listened to what employees shared and provided answers with topics that included self-managing during COVID-19, maximizing information technology and virtual training and professional development, done interactively online and with over 300 employees participating per session. I couldn’t be prouder of the work we are doing to ensure our mission support remains strong and care for our people.