The Democratic staff of the House Homeland Security Committee issued a report last week entitled “The State of Homeland Security 2006: An Annual Report Card on the Department of Homeland Security.” The report issues grades for DHS in a number of categories, summarized as follows:
Port Security: C+/D-
Aviation Security: C+
Surface Transportation Security: C-
Border Security: C-
Emergency Preparedness and Response: D
Interoperable Communications: B-
Information Sharing: C-
Chemical Plant Security: C-
Critical Infrastructure Protection: D-
Science & Technology: C
Privacy Protection: B-
Watchlists and Need for Redress: D
Employee Morale: incomplete
Maybe it’s the fact that I was educated in the era of grade inflation, but most of these grades seem overly harsh to me. On many of the issues, the report singles out a few programs that are underperforming or underfunded, but doesn’t look comprehensively at the mission performance across all relevant programs. For example, the section on border security criticizes the Department primarily for (a) poor performance on two border technology programs, (b) the failure to submit a mandated vulnerability assessment for the border points-of-entry, and (c) insufficient increases in Border Patrol staffing. But these three issues are hardly the basis for a comprehensive grade of a “C-” on border security.
I also think that this report is problematic in its arguments, because for each of these grades, you have to ask, “compared to what?” Compared to the state of affairs prior to 9/11, there has certainly been substantially progress in every single one of these areas. Compared to some abstract notion of perfect homeland security, you could argue that we’re failing miserably. I think that sometimes DHS PR materials lean too far in the former direction. And I think that some sections of this report lean too far in the latter direction, and fail to grasp the reality that we can’t do everything, and that we need to act realistically, within our means, and consistent with rigorous risk-based analyses.
Finally, one fact-check, from page 53:
For example, although the S&T Directorate has made progress in developing counter-MANPADS to protect large aircraft like 747s from shoulder mounted missiles, most domestic flights are not made in these large planes, but in smaller, yet still very sizable aircraft, like 737s, the most widely used passenger airplane worldwide.
I’ve never seen anything to indicate that the counter-MANPADS systems under development would not work on 737’s; this AIAA article and this presentation from Northrop Grumman indicate that the systems are designed for 737’s on up.