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Inspector: Homeland Security database flawed

A Homeland Security database of structures vulnerable to terror attacks is too faulty to accurately help allocate federal funds, according to the department’s internal watchdog.
Times Square Turns 100
Times Square in New York City is busy day and night, yet it wasn't on a Homeland Security Department assessment of potential threatened spots.Mario Tama / Getty Images file
/ Source: news services

A Homeland Security database of national monuments, chemical plants and other structures vulnerable to terror attacks is too faulty to accurately help divide federal funds to states and cities, according to the department’s internal watchdog.

Much of the study by Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner appears to have been completed before the department announced in May it would cut security grants to New York and Washington by 40 percent this year.

But the report, which was released Tuesday, affirmed the fury of those two cities — the two targets of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — which claimed the department did not accurately assess their risks.

Instead, the department’s database of vulnerable critical infrastructure and key resources included the Old MacDonald's Petting Zoo near Huntsville, Ala., a bourbon festival, a bean festival and the Kangaroo Conservation Center in Dawsonville, Ga.

The database “is not an accurate representation of the nations CI/KR (critical infrastructure and key resources),” inspectors concluded. Additionally, the database “is not yet comprehensive enough to support the management and resource allocation decision-making envisioned by the National Infrastructure Protection Plan.”

Assets skewed
The report noted that Indiana has 8,591 assets listed in the database — more than any other state and 50 percent more than New York. New York had 5,687 listed.

It did not detail which ones, but the Homeland Security assessment of New York this year failed to include Times Square, the Empire State Building the Brooklyn Bridge or the Statue of Liberty as a national icon or monument.

“I was made aware of this for the first time this morning,” said Sherry Lewis, owner of the Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo in Huntsville told “We’ve never had a disturbance, never had a bomb threat,” she said. “This is getting out of hand.”

Lewis described the zoo as located as a “small out-of-the-way place.”

As to how her business made the list, she speculated, “We pay taxes, we must be on some kind of database somewhere.”

A Homeland Security spokesman did not return a call or e-mail for comment Tuesday night. But in an April 13 response to a draft of the report, department Undersecretary George Foresman said the database represented a range of national assets that could face different levels of threats at different times.

'Mature and improve' process
The data “have been and are currently being utilized to support allocation decision making processes for the department,” wrote Foresman, who oversees the database and the grant funds.

He added: “The process also continues to mature and improve.”

Part of the problem lies in what inspectors noted was “quirky totals” by states that submitted lists of vulnerable assets.

The database does not rank the assets it tracks by perceived threats and consequences they face, the report found. An earlier attempt to do so with 1,849 assets “was unreliable.”

The full report is online at