2002 Emerging Leaders

Duane Blackburn

Enhanced airport security and helped in the effort against illegal drugs.

Duane Blackburn began his public service career just five years ago, but the 28-year old Navy electronics engineer’s accomplishments are already making a difference.

His work within the US Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) confirms Blackburn’s commitment to serving his country. His responsibilities continue to grow immeasurably, as more federal agencies take note of his leadership abilities and innovative ideas.

Officially an employee of NAVSEA Dahlgren Division, Blackburn has worked for the Defense Department’s Counterdrug Technology Development Program Office since 1997. This agency is responsible for developing technologies to enhance the counterdrug capabilities of the Defense Department and federal civilian law enforcement agencies. Since 2001, he has spent part of his workweek on a detail to the NIJ’s Office of Science and Technology. NIJ, the research and development agency of the Justice Department, develops crime control and justice technologies for use at the state and local levels. His work for these two agencies enables Blackburn to provide advice and technical assistance to numerous external agencies at the federal, state, local, and sometimes international levels.

On average, Blackburn manages the work of ten individuals working on fifteen different projects in face recognition technology, voice identification systems, data analysis and visualization, interdiction, drug detection and drug screening. In all of these critical initiatives, his abilities to organize, manage, and facilitate progress has proved invaluable. Blackburn dedicates his time, energy, resourcefulness and team-building skills to planning and instituting innovative programs that rapidly place information and technology into the hands that can use them.

One such undertaking is the Facial Recognition Vendor Test 2000 (FRVT 2000) Evaluation Report. In 1998, Blackburn began studying biometrics only to learn that commercial face recognition systems were not performing as advertised. The fundamental problem was that prior evaluations did not follow sound engineering principles so their results were largely inaccurate for most applications. He set out to find a solution and initiated, assembled, and managed the multi-agency FRVT 2000 Evaluation Team.

The team’s report gave a much-needed technical assessment of the capabilities of commercially available face recognition systems. Many government officials, technologists and privacy advocates have studied these results for their own applications. Most consider the highly regarded FRVT Evaluation Report a permanent contribution to the field of biometrics and predict “that people fifty years from now will still be referencing this work.”

Blackburn’s contributions after the events of September 11 also illustrate his dedication to the US, specifically, by securing the nation’s airports. Along with the FAA, Blackburn established and co-chaired the Aviation Security Biometrics Working Group to bring together the collective expertise from several federal agencies. Using information gathered from government, industry and academia, the group formulated methods to improve aviation security systems via the addition of biometric technology. They found that these new technologies could directly affect airport access control, protection of the public in and around airports, passenger identification and aircrew identification. The FAA Administrator and Deputy Administrator used the information and findings assembled by the working group in some of their first congressional testimonies after the terrorist attacks.

After the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, Blackburn served as Defense Department representative on the newly formed “Go-Team” responsible for reviewing biometric technology and how it could be used to improve security throughout the transportation industry. Despite the massive task assigned, the team hammered out a report and briefing in less than 45 days that provided the baseline for TSA’s still-ongoing work.

These significant accomplishments demonstrate Blackburn’s ability to contribute his knowledge and experience to achieve a high-impact goal for the benefit of the nation he serves.