Lieberman Faults Administration Progress

WASHINGTON – In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Thursday expressed strong concerns about the Administration’s headway in permanently protecting America’s critical infrastructure from terrorist attacks and requested an accounting by April 3 of progress of implementation of key security steps.

Citing evidence that underscores numerous vulnerabilities to the nation’s critical infrastructure, Lieberman said the Administration has not yet taken the steps necessary to inventory and assess the vulnerability of – and therefore has not yet protected – transportation, communications, and financial networks, our energy system, water supplies, chemical plants, emergency services, and public health systems. This is despite the fact that as long ago as 1996, President Clinton began to put a national framework together to protect the infrastructure.

“Though much lip service has been given to the importance of protecting our critical infrastructure,” Lieberman wrote in a letter dated March 18, “actual progress appears to have been exceedingly slow.” The Administration’s recently-released National Strategy for the Physical Protection of Critical Infrastructures and Key Assets is inadequate, Lieberman said, relying primarily on “vague goals,” and failing “to provide a forceful strategy for securing these infrastructures… “I was very troubled to see that, after all the planning efforts that have gone before and the very real threat under which we remain, the [Physical Protection Strategy]… still speaks only in the broadest and vaguest generalities,” Lieberman wrote. “Nowhere does this document list any specific actions to be taken to identify, assess, and protect critical infrastructures or provide any timetable for accomplishing these tasks. Instead, the document relies on self-evident platitudes about the importance of building partnerships and glowing promises about what the [Department of Homeland Security] intends to do in the future. Vague goals stand in for any specific action plan. At this late date, such an approach is inadequate.”

Particularly disturbing, Lieberman wrote, is the failure of the government to ensure that the private sector, which controls 85 percent of the infrastructure, has taken adequate safety precautions. The National Strategy for Homeland Security, issued by the Administration last June, appears to conclude that, in most cases, free market forces are sufficient to ensure the safety of private sector assets, Lieberman wrote.

But a January 2003 report from the Brookings Institution notes that private markets often won’t “provide adequate protection against terrorist attack on their own, since individual citizens and businessmen tend to worry more about the immediate challenge of making a profit than about the extremely unlikely possibility that their properties and facilities will be attacked.”

“Businesses, including small businesses,” Lieberman said, “may not have expertise in homeland security matters and may need guidance from the federal government or others… as to the appropriate actions they need to take to effectively protect the infrastructure and assets under their control.”

Lieberman sought clarification from the Administration for its conclusion that free market forces, absent incentives, will lead to sufficiently protected critical infrastructure under private sector control and he asked for an analysis of where free market forces will work and how the Administration will monitor private sector efforts. Further, he asked Ridge for timetables for completing inventory, vulnerability, and risk assessments, and for protective measures of critical infrastructure assets in the areas of agriculture; food; water; public health; emergency services; government; the defense industrial base; information and telecommunications; energy; transportation; banking and finance; chemicals and hazardous materials; postal and shipping; national monuments and icons; nuclear power plants, dams, government facilities, and commercial key assets.

Awareness of the need to protect the critical infrastructure from malevolent attack is not new, Lieberman wrote. As early as 1996, Congress required the President to report to Congress on a national policy to protect the nation’s information infrastructure. President Clinton established the President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection, and two years later set forth a goal to protect the critical infrastructure within five years. As Chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee in 2001 and 2002, Lieberman held 19 hearings on homeland security, including a number that addressed critical infrastructure protection. Subsequently, Lieberman sought information from Ridge regarding infrastructure protection and received assurances the Administration was identifying problems and proposing solutions.