The DHS 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, and helps explain some of the shortcomings in the recent homeland security grant allocation decisions, which were based to a certain degree on the information in this database.
The report describes the process by which DHS worked with states to build the asset database, and provides a detailed breakdown of the 77,069 assets in it by type, as shown in the chart below:
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 database implies that 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:
Old MacDonaldâ€™s petting zoo
Mall at Sears
Nixâ€™s Check Cashing
Amer. Society of Young Musicians
Trees of Mystery
Kennel Club and Poker Room
Historical Bok Sanctuary
4 Cs Fuel and Lube
Kangaroo Conservation Center
Assyrian American Association
[state] Right to Life Committee
Association for the Jewish Blind
[university] Insect Zoo
Jayâ€™s Sporting Goods
Nestle Purina Pet food Plant
Sweetwater Flea Market
High Stakes Bingo
[state] Community College
Frontier Fun Park
[a] Travel Stop
Mule Day Parade
Beach at End of [a] Street
Amish Country Popcorn
[a] Pepper and Herb Company
Psychiatry Behavioral Center
Order of Elks National Memorial
Ice Cream Parlor
Bakery & Cookie Shop
Sears Auto Center
Wine and Coffee Co.
Bass Pro Shop
Muzzle Shoot Enterprise
Property Owners Associations
Apple and Pork Festival
Rolls Royce Plant
Yacht Repair Business
Center for Veterinary Medicine
Mail Boxes Etc
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 NY (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 & 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:
- Define, and systematically examine, out-of-place or â€œextremely insignificantâ€ assets, and determine which of those assets should remain in the NADB. Consider redesignating low-value assets remaining in the NADB.
- Provide state homeland security advisors the opportunity to (a) review their previously submitted assets (with the taxonomy if necessary) that they believe fall within the definition of â€œextremely insignificantâ€ and (b) recommend to DHS whether to retain them.
- For ongoing and future data calls, clarify the guidance states should
follow for what data to submit, and how DHS intends to use that data.
- Identify and evaluate key milestones for the NADB and ensure that they are accurately captured in the NIPP.
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 SHSGP (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.
Update (7/12): The New York Times has fun with the report.
Update 2 (7/12): A good story on the report at GCN.