Here’s a question:
“What percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector?”
The answer — as practically everyone associated with homeland security knows — is 85%.
It’s probably the best known homeland security statistic.
I suspect it’s wrong.
I’ve been trying — unsuccessfully – to find the source for that number since July 2002. I hope someone can point me to the data supporting this number.
I first saw The Number on page 8 of the 2002 National Strategy for Homeland Security: “The private sector—the Nation’s principal provider of goods and services and owner of 85 percent of our infrastructure—is a key homeland security partner.”
What could that number possibly mean? Did it mean all infrastructure (there was no qualifier). Or, with hindsight, did it mean only critical infrastructure?
How could that percentage even be estimated, let alone calculated with enough precision to be a basis for policy? Do you take every provider of goods and services that could be considered as infrastructure, find out who owns each business, and then figure percentages? Do you group them into sector categories first and then figure out who owns the sectors? Does “own” mean government has no say in operations?
Those were the days of vague critical infrastructure (CI) definitions. There were 13 critical sectors then; today there are 17. While the number of sectors has changed, the mystical 85% has not. (The 85% term is also repeated in the 2007 update of the strategy)
IN 1998, Presidential Decision Directive 63 initiated contemporary interest in critical infrastructure. It defined CI, but did not say who owned what. (Although someone claimed PDD 63 concluded “… 90% of the nation’s critical infrastructures are owned and operated by the private sector….”)
In 2003, the Bush White House issued HSPD 7: Critical Infrastructure Identification, Prioritization, and Protection. It avoided saying anything about percentages. But it did introduce a new wrinkle into who owned what: “America’s open and technologically complex society includes a wide array of critical infrastructure and key resources that are potential terrorist targets. The majority of these are owned and operated by the private sector and State or local governments.”
State and local governments were now in the mix.
The White House: “Private industry owns and operates approximately 85 percent of our critical infrastructures and key assets.”
DHS: “Partnership between the public and private sectors is essential, in part because the private sector owns and operates approximately 85% of the nation’s critical infrastructure….”
GAO: “Because the private sector owns approximately 85 percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure and key resources … it is vital that the public and private sectors form effective partnerships to successfully protect these assets.”
The US Chamber of Commerce: “As 85% of our nation’s critical infrastructure is owned or operated by the private sector, it is vital to our economic and national security that business is actively involved in the formulation of homeland security policies.”
Universities: “With approximately 85 percent of the Nation’s critical infrastructure owned by the private sector, and no single, overarching body managing this infrastructure, the task of protecting critical infrastructure is daunting.”
Think tanks: “Over 85 percent of the critical infrastructure (CI) in the United States is controlled by the private sector.”
The Information Sharing Environment: “The private sector owns and operates an estimated 85% of infrastructure and resources that are critical to our Nation’s physical and economic security. It is, therefore, vital to ensure we develop effective and efficient information sharing partnerships with private sector entities.”
Associations: “Approximately 85 percent of all of the nation’s critical infrastructure is owned and or controlled by the private sector.”
The Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security: “As owners and operators of 85 percent of our nation’s critical infrastructure, the private sector absolutely must lead our efforts to protect our most critical assets.”
The ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: “Another area where the next secretary must forge a partnership with the private sector is the security of our nation’s critical infrastructure. With more than 85 percent of those assets in private hands, this is a daunting task.” (p.5)
The new Secretary of Homeland Security: ‘I understand the importance of working with the private sector, given that over 85 percent of our Nation’s critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector.” (p.55)
Those are just a few of the many quotes that could be cited. I would not be surprised if scientists found that 85% of the people who talk about critical infrastructure use The Number within the first five minutes of their talk.
The Number also transcends borders.
In Canada, there are “…ten indispensible, interconnected sectors, from food and water to public utilities, aviation, banking, public health, and telecommunications. As is the case in the United States, more than 85 percent of those networks, physical resources, and services [are] owned and operated by industry, the provinces, and non-government actors….”
In the South Moravia region of the Czech Republic, it turns out “85% [of] Critical Infrastructure [subjects] are in private sphere.”
I once brought up my admittedly obsessive concern with the source of the 85% to a senior DHS official who had significant responsibility for CI. He recited all the usual suspects to support The Number: PDD 63, NHSS, HSPD 7, NIPP, and so on. I said they were carriers of The Number, not sources. Ending the conversation, he said “It really doesn’t matter whether 85% is right or not. We’re still going to do the same thing.”
I thanked him for his honesty and stumbled back to my ivory tower.
But I think getting it right does matter. For the last 7 years, the 85% figure has been used to justify a laissez fair critical infrastructure strategy. Private sector “ownership and control” has been interpreted to mean government frequently has to ask politely before it tries to do anything to improve safety and security.
If the 85% figure is wrong — or at least unsupported by any empirical basis — maybe the policies derived from that belief are also wrong.
A year ago, a colleague in a position to know, said he received a report in the 1990s that indicated 85% of the defense industrial base was owned and operated by the private sector. He speculated someone (probably inadvertently) dropped the “defense industrial base” qualifier and an urban homeland security myth was born.
In the absence of a better story, I use his.