Democrats question infrastructure protections

A database of the nation's critical infrastructure is inconsistent and incomplete, hampering Homeland Security Department efforts to prioritize and protect these resources, a group of House Democrats say.

The Homeland Security Act requires DHS to do a comprehensive vulnerability assessment of critical infrastructures, but government and private sector owners of the facilities have received no guidance from DHS on reporting them.

'We are concerned that methodological flaws in the process are resulting in an incomplete and flawed vulnerability assessment,' a dozen minority members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security said in an Aug. 3 letter to Secretary Tom Ridge.

The department has not publicly responded to the letter.

The department's Office of Infrastructure Protection has assembled a database of 33,000 critical assets and sites. The database is to be used to prioritize infrastructures for protection. But the department has not provided any input mechanism to ensure all relevant data is gathered and is in a standard form.

'The result of this lack of guidance and outreach is apparent once one looks at the database's contents,' the letter said. Significant government and commercial sites that should be included are missing, and some sites on the list no longer exist. The significance of other sites is questionable.

'The department cannot start out with flawed instructions to state, local and private sector entities and then expect, in the end, to have a comprehensive prioritized database,' the letter said.

The representatives said the department 'must find a better way to coordinate with state and local officials,' and urged it to develop a formalized and uniform process for receiving information.

'We are very interested in making sure that DHS has the resources,' for conducting the assessment, the letter said. 'If current resources are inadequate, Congress needs to know that as soon as possible so that we can take steps to correct the problem.'

The representatives asked for a timeline with milestones for completing the risk assessment.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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