Friday, July 21, 2006

Get your story straight

It's hard to decide which is more egregious and inexcusable - the fact that, three years after the creation of a Department of Homeland Security and nearly five years after 9/11, we still don't have a credible prioritized list of the nation's most critical sectors and sites, or the fact that the department speaks out of both sides of its mouth as to whether the latest version of the list is, in fact, used to make decisions about how to allocate scarce homeland security resources. DHS Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection Bob Stephan insists in a USA Today op-ed yesterday that we shouldn't worry that popcorn factories and petting zoos are included in the "National Asset Database" because it is not used to make funding decisions. According to Stephan, the list at present is merely an unedited compilation of submissions from state and lcoal governments and the private sector. Eventually, the department will pick and choose among these submissions to arrive at a list of the nation's most critical assets prioritzed in order of importance, vulnerability, and risk. But, in his formal response the DHS Inspector General report released last week on this issue, the department's Under Secretary for Preparedness, George Foresman, said that the data "have been and are currently being utilized to support allocation decision-making processes for the department." This, of course, explains why inarguably high-threat places like New York City and Washington, D.C. had their funding allocations cut in the latest round of DHS counterterrorism grants to local communities. Stephan was right to say last year, in an uncharacteristic moment of candor, that, in the absence of a such a prioritized list, the department is esesentially "flying blind" in terms of what to protect and how much money to allocate toward doing so. Either the list at present is a prioritized list of truly critical assets or it is not, and either it is being used to make funding decisions or it isn't. DHS, which is it?