Off-Target on Terror

Friday, July 14, 2006

PERHAPS ONE way the District can get more federal money to guard against possible terrorist attacks is to establish more petting zoos. That seems like a lesson to be drawn from an absurd list of possible targets that the federal government has established to help decide where to direct anti-terror funds.

The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, in a report released this week and described first in the New York Times, spotlighted problems with the department's database of sites deemed to be of national or local importance. Among the sites listed: the Amish Country Popcorn Factory (in Berne, Ind.), the Groundhog Zoo (in Punxsutawney, Pa.), Sweetwater Flea Market (in Sweetwater, Tenn.) and Old MacDonald's Petting Zoo (in Woodville, Ala.). Among the anomalies cited: Washington state lists more national monuments and icons (65) than Washington, D.C. (37); New Mexico claims the lion's share of the information technology sector (553 assets), with Virginia coming in second (68); Indiana boasts more assets (8,591) than any other state, including New York (5,687). Among the questions raised: Why are mortuaries, water parks and jails included in the inventory?

The Apple and Pork Festival of Clinton, Ill., made the list, but festival official Larry Buss didn't seem reassured. "Seems like someone has gone overboard," Mr. Buss told the Times. "Their time could be better spent doing other things, like providing security for the country."

The best defense of this sad exercise seems to be that the list is not the sole basis for deciding how funds are distributed. But it is worrying that this database was used in any way in calculating the anti-terrorism grants announced in May, which (as it turns out, not surprisingly) cut funding to the District and New York City. Rather than defend the list as "a valuable tool," Homeland Security officials should engage in serious risk assessment. And as the inspector general suggests, better communication with local officials would be a helpful step.


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