DHS "Critical Infrastructure": Amish Popcorn, Trees of Mystery

As the New York Times notes, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general released an important and timely report on Tuesday, entitled "Progress in Developing the National Asset Database." The report chronicles the difficulties that DHS has faced in developing a usable national inventory of critical infrastructure. It also helps explain some of the shortcomings in the recent homeland security grant allocation decisions -- remember New York's big cut? -- which were based to a certain degree on the information in this database.The report provides a detailed breakdown of the 77,069 assets in the database by type, as shown in this chart. It then discusses some of the limitations of the current database, noting that it does not assign criticality rankings to the assets in the database; in other words, the Brooklyn Bridge or Hoover Dam have the same value to the nation as the least significant asset included in the database. And what are some of those low-caliber assets? The report provides a sampling, and oh what a list it is. Some highlights:infra.jpg

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These were assets which were submitted by states as lists of their critical infrastructure in 2004 and 2005, with little quality control to date. And they aren't anomalies. The report notes that the state of Indiana has 8,591 assets on the list - 50% more than New York (5,867) and nearly triple the number of assets that California submitted (3,457). The state of New Mexico apparently contains 73% of the critical assets in IT sector nationwide, according to the database. New York has only 2% of the nation's banking and finance assets - trailing North Dakota & Missouri. Indiana has more tall buildings than Illinois, home to skyscraper city Chicago. And so on. The chart on page 51 of the report provides the complete state-by-state breakdown.The report also notes an equally serious problem: the fact that the database does not adequate account for distributed, system-level assets (e.g. food supply systems, energy & telco grids, etc.), which creates the risk of a bias in favor of protecting fixed assets in the nation's infrastructure protection activities.It mentions that efforts are underway to improve the database and prioritize assets within it, but these efforts are incomplete. And it concludes with a set of recommendations about how to improve the database.I've described the DHS grant system as being at risk to the "garbage-in, garbage-out" problem in its allocation processes since the beginning of the year. This report provides another point of confirmation that the quality of the data used to make DHS grant decisions is subpar, and perhaps explains some of the oddities in the funding decisions for the State Homeland Security Grant Program in 2006. Some of the states who were apparently "asset inflators" made out very well in the discretionary segment of the State Homeland Security Grant Program (money left over after the allocation of state minimums) this year, notably Nebraska, North Dakota, and Missouri. Perhaps this is a coincidence; but given the black box nature of this allocation process, and the well-documented flaws in the UASI allocations, I'm inclined to think that it's not until shown otherwise.-- Christian Beckner, cross-posted from Homeland Security Watch.
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