Daniel Walsh, Ph.D. ’00
Daniel Walsh, Ph.D. ’00

Daniel Walsh, Ph.D. ’00: Magis at the Pentagon

A chemist is led by mission and service as the new director of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency.

As Daniel Walsh, Ph.D. ’00 walks out of the Pentagon each day, he’s greeted with a view of Washington, D.C., the Potomac reflecting the cherry blossoms nearby, and the Washington Monument and the Capitol in the distance.

“There are times when the weather is just right or the sun is just right, and you wouldn’t be an American if it didn’t hit you sometimes. And then a chopper flies over. You get those special moments,” said Walsh. “I think this is part of what keeps you going on with service.”

Most days, Walsh reminds himself to see the big picture, of how it is a privilege and honor to serve others — to do more — through his work as the director of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency (PFPA) leading more than 1,200 civilian employees and law enforcement officers. It’s that concept of doing more, the magis one might say, that was ingrained in him when he was an SJLA student in chemistry, philosophy and theology at Scranton.

“I probably have forgotten most of what came out of books or what we got tested on,” the Taylor native said, “but what I think I took away from the school was a way of approaching the world from not only an educational point of view but an ethical and moral framework to evaluate and prepare yourself to get through life.”

That framework has guided him throughout his career and helped prepare him for what he calls his “long and winding path” in chemistry and government service.

The Winding Path

Walsh didn’t start out interested in government service. He thought he might be a professor or go on to work for a pharmaceutical company after getting his Ph.D. from NYU, but then September 11 happened, and he changed course.

“I think that there are a lot of folks from my generation that looked at that and said, ‘I want to do something,’” he said. “September 11 served as a big moment for me.”

While studying at NYU in Greenwich Village, he was close to Ground Zero, and that made him rethink his career path just as he was finishing his degree. He joined a hazmat team in New York City, dealing with post-9/11 threats such as the anthrax incidents, “one thing led to another,” he said, and he ended up in federal service. This path was not unlike the one followed by several of his chemistry friends from Scranton who ended up “far from the laboratory bench,” including his wife, Kelly (Corcoran) Walsh ’00, now a principal policy associate at the Urban Institute.

"I think what I took away from the school was a way of approaching the world from not only an educational point of view but an ethical and moral framework to evaluate and prepare yourself to get through life."

He eventually joined the PFPA, a Department of Defense agency “charged with protecting and safeguarding occupants of the Pentagon” and other facilities across several states. His first position was as a chemist in the Science and Technology Office in 2008, and he became chief in that office just nine months later, eventually working his way up to acting director of the entire agency in December 2019.

Community and Mission

World events continued to define Walsh’s career. Soon after he took on his role as acting director, the Capitol riot took place, then the pandemic hit. COVID-19 took a toll on the tight-knit community, one he compared to the University community.

At Scranton, “that sense of community and that sense of being a part of something bigger is so much a part of the Jesuit and Catholic identity; that’s an important thing that any organization needs to build and latch on to, and COVID made that harder,” he said. “Hopefully we’re going to pull through this and get back to doing all those other things that make this agency special, because the men and women here have gotten the job done every day throughout.”

Community and mission go hand in hand, and “people stay on for a strong mission,” he said, which everyone in the agency works hard to uphold every day. Walsh said he works to be an ethical leader, to build trust with the community and inspire those around him to work toward the agency’s goals.

“If they see that over the years, it builds trust,” he said. “And if you have trust in an organization, then you probably have a well-functioning organization. Especially in this type of business, where people’s lives are on the line, not only police officers but the people they protect.”

“There’s always something. That’s the nature of the protection business."

Whether it’s COVID, the Capitol riot, or something else on the horizon, the key is to be able to adapt.

“There’s always something,” he said. “That’s the nature of the protection business. It’s very dynamic, and you need to adjust and adapt, be agile around whatever that is, and that could be something on the threat side or when we have changes in administrations or different budget strains. There’s always some challenge that lies before you.”

In the summer of 2021, a Pentagon law enforcement officer was killed in the line of duty, which Walsh called one of his biggest challenges personally and professionally.

“It’s the type of thing that you don’t get through alone,” he said. “The support that we got from everywhere, that was really incredible. At the time, when you’re in the worst place, you see that community come together and pull everyone through, and you get through it, you try to learn from it, and you just pray to God it never happens again.”

It’s humbling, Walsh said, to serve in a civilian capacity, alongside law enforcement professionals and service members who have such diverse experiences so different from his own. Their dedication is inspiring, he said.

“They have done amazing things,” said Walsh, “and they continue to do amazing things for the best mission on the planet. This is a great place to show up and work every day.”

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More From the Pentagon

Daniel Walsh, Ph.D. ’00, talks philosophy, trust, leadership, mission, chemistry and more in a web exclusive interview.

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