GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE...

GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT. Greg Anrig has a great post over at TPMCafe about the convoluted decision making process at the Department of Homeland Security and the way its evaluation criteria led to the current controversy over the new formula for funding didfferent localities. He's also unearthed a fact sheet (PDF), written by Department of Homeland Security assistant secretary Tracy Henke and now likely to embarass her, laying out how the department's grant-making decisions were to get made.

Tooling around the Office of Grants and Training Site, I also found this "Discussion of the FY 2006 Risk Methodology and the Urban Areas Security Initiative", which is really quite fascinating. Apparently, the DHS risk evaluations have gotten so complex and multi-factoral that they are leading to outcomes, such as the present one, that defy common sense. Just look at the level of mathematical calculation that went into the 2006 decisions:

in FY 2003, three primary equations were used in the risk analysis; in FY 2006, over 4,100 equations were used. For FY 2003, approximately 1,500 calculations were made, in contrast to more than 3 billion calculations in FY 2006. FY 2005 UASI formulations were represented within a spreadsheet of about 72,000 cells; if the FY 2006 UASI calculations could be included in a spreadsheet, it would contain more than 20 million cells.

What's also interesting is that so many different potential components of cities were included in the risk evaluations that a city like Washington, D.C., which is clearly a high-risk environment, was officially designated a low-risk one. How could that be possible? Well, if you look at the list of "ASSET TYPES USED IN ASSET-BASED RISK CALCULATIONS" (scroll to page 7), it's pretty obvious that metropolitan D.C. is an asset-poor environment for DHS risk calculating purposes, in that it lacks, among other things: dams, nuclear power plants, tall commercial buildings, commercial airports, levees, hotel casinos, maritime port facilities, theme parks, or petroleum refineries. It also has a small population, and is not an international port of entry.

That it's the seat of the national government, however, and that even its non-iconic, short, non-commercial buildings (think of the squat monstrosity that is the FBI building) have unique roles to play in national life somehow got lost in this complicated matrix.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

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