Ax the 'idiotic' method
BY MICHAEL McAULIFF and JAMES GORDON MEEK
Thursday, July 13th, 2006
WASHINGTON - Sen. Chuck Schumer says the yokels who rated New York City's terror attack risk need to go.
The New York Democrat is pushing a bill to quash Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's beloved "peer review" program, which had teams of anonymous peons decide in secret that the city's terror funding should be slashed.
This year, the Chertoff way - which Schumer said is flawed and politicized - resulted in New York City losing $80 million in funds to protect against security threats.
"It's the most idiotic procedure," Schumer told the Daily News yesterday. "A sheriff in a small town in the Rockies shouldn't be deciding how homeland security funding is spent. It's just ridiculous ... they don't have the experience.
"Chertoff assured us that this money would be distributed in a smart way, and it was done in a dumb and probably political way," he said.
Schumer's bill proposes eliminating "peer review" in deciding the Department of Homeland Security's Urban Area Security Initiative grants, which totaled $710 million this year. The overall fund was cut 14% from 2005, but New York lost more than 40% of its annual funding.
But it's unclear if Schumer's measure could pass the GOP-controlled Congress to reach President Bush's desk, since it's a pork barrel bonanza for greedy lawmakers from no-threat zones.
Evidence of that came in a report this week by Chertoff's own inspector general, who offered a list of bogus terror targets that have boosted security funding for obscure U.S. "assets" highly unlikely to catch Osama Bin Laden's eye.
There were petting zoos, a Kentucky bourbon festival and golf tournament, bingo and ice cream parlors and a cookie shop. Breweries, fishing shops, gyms, pet food makers, redwood trees and an Illinois "Apple and Pork Festival" also were deemed at risk from jihadists.
"It just causes your head to shake in bewilderment," marveled Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) on the Senate floor.
The inspector general probe suggested that some rural states eager for a payout from the feds lumped in everything they could count, including more than 8,591 assets in Indiana compared with 5,687 identified by New York.
Even the dead were protected in one state claiming evildoers may clobber a casket company.
The inclusion of these “out of place assets” in the risk assessments "taints the credibility of the data," wrote Inspector General Richard Skinner. His report said many assets were counted twice and that few states understood what qualified as a target.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan-Brooklyn) said, “[Homeland Security's] ignorance is disgusting.”>>
Well, I guess that’s SOMEthing. I agree that it will never make it to the unelected president’s desk, given all the trough feeders in the hick states who do indeed see homeland security money as a chance to freeload. And Chertoff is too pigheadedly abysmally stupid to ever change what it pleases him to call his mind, a trait he shares with the Chimp. But it’s a nice try, even if the forlornest of hopes.
Still, Chuck and Hills aren’t off the hook I hung them up on in my previous post. It’ll take more and bigger stands than this.
Love the tone of the article, though, especially the use of “anonymous peons.” Most praiseworthy.
Make sure y’all stay away from those terrorist-infested petting zoos and redwood trees and Apple and Pork Festivals, now, y'hear? They're ever so much more likely to be blown to bits than the New York City subway system or the Statue of Liberty...oh, wait, I forgot, according to Chertoff NYC doesn't HAVE any targets or national icons. My bad.
PS Here's the New York Times's take on it...
Come One, Come All, Join the Terror Target List
By ERIC LIPTON
WASHINGTON, July 11 — It reads like a tally of terrorist targets that a child might have written: Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo, the Amish Country Popcorn factory, the Mule Day Parade, the Sweetwater Flea Market and an unspecified “Beach at End of a Street.”
But the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, in a report released Tuesday, found that the list was not child’s play: all these “unusual or out-of-place” sites “whose criticality is not readily apparent” are inexplicably included in the federal antiterrorism database.
The National Asset Database, as it is known, is so flawed, the inspector general found, that as of January, Indiana, with 8,591 potential terrorist targets, had 50 percent more listed sites than New York (5,687) and more than twice as many as California (3,212), ranking the state the most target-rich place in the nation.
The database is used by the Homeland Security Department to help divvy up the hundreds of millions of dollars in antiterrorism grants each year, including the program announced in May that cut money to New York City and Washington by 40 percent, while significantly increasing spending for cities including Louisville, Ky., and Omaha.
“We don’t find it embarrassing,” said the department’s deputy press secretary, Jarrod Agen. “The list is a valuable tool.”
But the audit says that lower-level department officials agreed that some older information in the inventory “was of low quality and that they had little faith in it.”
“The presence of large numbers of out-of-place assets taints the credibility of the data,” the report says.
In addition to the petting zoo, in Woodville, Ala., and the Mule Day Parade in Columbia, Tenn., the auditors questioned many entries, including “Nix’s Check Cashing,” “Mall at Sears,” “Ice Cream Parlor,” “Tackle Shop,” “Donut Shop,” “Anti-Cruelty Society” and “Bean Fest.”
Even people connected to some of those businesses or events are baffled at their inclusion as possible terrorist targets.
“Seems like someone has gone overboard,” said Larry Buss, who helps organize the Apple and Pork Festival in Clinton, Ill. “Their time could be spent better doing other things, like providing security for the country.”
Angela McNabb, manager of the Sweetwater Flea Market, which is 50 miles from Knoxville, Tenn., said: “I don’t know where they get their information. We are talking about a flea market here.”
New York City officials, who have questioned the rationale for the reduction in this year’s antiterrorism grants, were similarly blunt.
“Now we know why the Homeland Security grant formula came out as wacky as it was,” Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Tuesday. “This report is the smoking gun that thoroughly indicts the system.”
The source of the problems, the audit said, appears to be insufficient definitions or standards for inclusion provided to the states, which submit lists of locations for the database.
New York, for example, lists only 2 percent of the nation’s banking and finance sector assets, which ranks it between North Dakota and Missouri. Washington State lists nearly twice as many national monuments and icons as the District of Columbia.
Montana, one of the least populous states in the nation, turned up with far more assets than big-population states including Massachusetts, North Carolina and New Jersey.
The inspector general questions whether many of the sites listed in whole categories — like the 1,305 casinos, 163 water parks, 159 cruise ships, 244 jails, 3,773 malls, 718 mortuaries and 571 nursing homes — should even be included in the tally.
But the report also notes that the list “may have too few assets in essential areas.” It apparently does not include many major business and finance operations or critical national telecommunications hubs.
The department does not release the list of 77,069 sites, but the report said that as of January it included 17,327 commercial properties like office buildings, malls and shopping centers, 12,019 government facilities, 8,402 public health buildings, 7,889 power plants and 2,963 sites with chemical or hazardous materials.
George W. Foresman, the department’s under secretary for preparedness, said the audit misunderstood the purpose of the database, as it was an inventory or catalog of national assets, not a prioritized list of the most critical sites.The database is just one of many sources consulted in deciding antiterrorism grants.
The inspector general recommends that the department review the list and determine which of the “extremely insignificant” assets that have been included should remain and provide better guidance to states on what to submit in the future.
Mr. Agen, the Homeland Security Department spokesman, said that he agreed that his agency should provide better directions for the states and that it would do so in the future.
One business owner who learned from a reporter that a company named Amish Country Popcorn was on the list was at first puzzled. The businessman, Brian Lehman, said he owned the only operation in the country with that name.
“I am out in the middle of nowhere,” said Mr. Lehman, whose business in Berne, Ind., has five employees and grows and distributes popcorn. “We are nothing but a bunch of Amish buggies and tractors out here. No one would care.”
But on second thought, he came up with an explanation: “Maybe because popcorn explodes?”
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company>>