The politics of data

Thomas R. Temin

'An abject failure of leadership' is how Rep. John F. Tierney described the fact that the Homeland Security Department hasn't completed the terrorist watch list database.

The Massachusetts Democrat's statement has the ring of political desperation to it.

Let me say right now that at GCN, we don't take political stands, Democrat versus Republican. You've got plenty of other places to read that. Our mission and editorial purpose do not include endorsing'or excoriating'parties, candidates, platforms or administrations.

But Tierney's statement is so overblown that it could only be playing to his political constituency. Regardless of whether one thinks the Bush administration has been right or wrong, the fact remains that in response to 9-11 it has toppled two terrorist-harboring regimes and reorganized the federal government with the aim of better protecting Americans and U.S. property.

That's hardly an abject failure of leadership.

Given many Democrats' understandable and justified sensitivity about combining databases originally created for other purposes, you'd think Tierney and his similarly appalled colleague, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), would be grateful that the department is moving slowly on this particular application.

Instead, even as Homeland Security officials envision the applications they'll need, they're trying to put in order an enterprise architecture, systems inventories from component agencies and an overall infrastructure. That sounds like a prudent way to proceed.

In the meantime, law enforcement and intelligence officials needn't act as if the various databases don't exist. That is, Homeland Security and its federal, state and local partners aren't absolved from responsibility for their protective mission.

If the department falls into the dreary and familiar trap of missed schedules, wasted resources and poor systems deployments, by all means it should be held accountable.

But using it as a proxy for frustration with Bush's political agenda is simply unfair.

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