That sinking feelingDHS a year late on critical infrastructure site list

Published 15 December 2005

Robert Stephan, the new DHS point man on preparing the list of U.S. critical terror-target sites, said he had “a sinking feeling” when he realized how thoroughly his predecessor had botched the job; many on the Hill share his feeling

Talk about being a day late and dollar short: President Bush ordered DHS to create, by December 2004, a list of chemical plants, bridges, skyscrapers, and other vulnerable sites which could become terrorist targets if plans are not made to protect them. A year after that deadline DHS officials admit they still do not have a workable database of possible targets. DHS tardiness drew ire from both sides of the aisle. Representative Dan Lungren (R-California), says he is frustrated by the lack of progress. Representative Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) calls it “appalling” that the plan is not done yet. Homeland Security Infrastructure Protection chief Robert Stephan, the man in charge of the plan, blames his predecessors for bungling the job and says he will have it done early next year. A draft of a plan to protect the nation’s most vulnerable sites was recently completed. Legislators who had the opportunity to review it were not impressed. “It’s pathetic,” says Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-California), also a member of the Homeland Security committee. “This was supposed to be the critical infrastructure list, and it’s the kitchen sink.” Stephan, who took over in April, told Congress recently that when he looked at the work done on the project before he was put in charge, “a sinking feeling rapidly came over me.”

The draft database — which failed to impress House members — contains about 80,000 sites. Stephan admitted that there is no explanation why many of the sites even made it to the list (we reported on the inclusion of a mini golf course in San Jose). Stephan says he is going through them to determine what should be left on and what should be taken off. “That thing really got under my skin,” he says. He also said that the “mini-golf courses and bowling alleys” have all been taken off the list already.

When the list is finished it will be used to help federal officials set priorities for permanent security protections which should be put in place. It will guide private industry and state and local governments about how to bolster security at their businesses and in their towns.

-read more in Mimi Hall’s USAToday report