Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The DHS National Asset Database

The Department of Homeland Security's National Asset Database has come under fire recently for the absurdity of some of the more than 77,000 items on the list, most of which were added in 2005--there were fewer than 32,000 items in 2004. Indiana leads the nation as the state with the most entries on the list, with 8,951 (up from 322 in 2004), including Amish Country Popcorn near Berne, Indiana. New York has 5,687 (up from 1,634 in 2004) and California has only 3,212. Washington state has 3,650, which includes 65 "national monuments and icons"--more than Washington, D.C. Arizona has a mere 675 entries on the list, up from 597 in 2004.

Absurd entries on the list include a petting zoo in Huntsville, Alabama, the Columbia, Tennessee Mule Day Parade, the Sweetwater Flea Market near Knoxville, Tennessee, and items like "Beach at End of a Street," "Nix's Check Cashing," "Mall at Sears," "Ice Cream Parlor," "Tackle Shop," "Donut Shop," "Anti-Cruelty Society," and Arkansas' Bean Fest.

In Seattle, the list includes Auburn's SuperMall (which received a $50,000 DHS grant). There are 1,305 casinos on the list, 234 restaurants, and 700 mortuaries. Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat has called for reader submissions of their own items, "as absurd as you want"--"No way can it top the spectacle going on at homeland security."

Not included on the list: Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, or the Brooklyn Bridge.

The list has made the press because auditors at the DHS Inspector General's office have questioned the value of "unusual or out-of-place sites ... whose criticality is not readily apparent." But the DHS is unapologetic: "We don't find it embarassing ... The list is a valuable tool," says DHS deputy press secretary Jarrod Agen. Agen claims that the list is not used for funding decisions, but the DHS budget for Arizona was cut in half for 2006.

The committees in Congress responsible for oversight of the DHS are the House Judiciary Committee (which includes two Arizonans, Rep. Jeff Flake and Rep. Trent Franks) and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs (no Arizonans).

How about setting some reasonable standards for what submissions from states get put on the list?

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