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Chemical Security Efforts Criticized

Antiterrorism: Department of Homeland Security tells Congress that program is on the mend

by Glenn Hess
September 17, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 38

Credit: shutterstock
DHS plans to complete some 300 approval inspections of chemical facilities over the next year.
Credit: shutterstock
DHS plans to complete some 300 approval inspections of chemical facilities over the next year.

After six years and having spent nearly $500 million to establish a program to safeguard the nation’s chemical facilities against terrorist threats, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has made little progress, Republican lawmakers and a government watchdog group charged last week.

“For all the support Congress has given over the years, [DHS’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program] should have more to show” than wasteful spending and delayed implementation, Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.) remarked at a hearing held on Sept. 11 by a subcommittee of the House of Representatives’ Energy & Commerce Committee.

The DHS antiterrorism effort has been plagued with problems since its inception. An internal DHS memo late last year exposed flaws in the program, including poor hiring decisions and mismanagement of resources (C&EN, Jan. 9, page 6).

CFATS requires high-risk chemical facilities to conduct vulnerability assessments and then design and implement site security plans that meet risk-based performance standards set by DHS.

DHS Undersecretary Rand Beers told the subcommittee that DHS is “working as quickly as possible” to implement a 95-item action plan to correct deficiencies in CFATS. Beers said the security program covers 4,433 high-risk chemical facilities, of which 3,660 have developed security plans for review.

Although DHS has given final approval to only two site security plans and conditional approval to 73 others, the department hopes to conduct 300 more approval inspections over the next year, noted David Wulf, head of DHS’s Infrastructure Security Compliance Division.

Expressing frustration with the program’s delay, Rep. Tim F. Murphy (R-Pa.) said it will take “a few centuries” for DHS to inspect all of the covered facilities.

Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) asked why no DHS employees have been fired over the troubled program. “I see something that smacks of cronyism. Frankly, I’m wondering why we’re giving you any money,” he told the two DHS officials.

Cathleen A. Berrick, managing director of the homeland security team at the Government Accountability Office, testified that DHS is “still in the early phase” of correcting course and making CFATS an effective regulatory program.



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Carl E. Heltzel, Ph.D. (September 18, 2012 12:15 PM)
To the Editor: I wrote an article about the DHS CFATS regs and the fact that it was already signed into law in The Lane Report (a KY magazine for business executives) back in 2008. A then-recent workshop was held at a small KY college called Midway. The workshop, an effort to bring "DHS personelle and the private sector together," included about 30 DHS agents and other government officials and FIVE persons from the private sector. I was one of the private sector attendees. Obviously very few were aware of the workshop, and if they were, they had little interest or incentive to attend. I was consulting to the coal industry at the time and when I would ask my clients if they were aware of the law and the potential penalties for non-compliance, the typical response was "we'll wait and see if anyone else is fined and then deal with it" left me aghast. The regs, as set forth in the Federal Register, required that ALL companies who produce, use, or transport high-risk chemicals were subject to the guidelines, not just chemical production plants. It was apparent that little effort was expended in reaching out to the coal industry, one whose members store significant quantities of chemicals listed on Appendix A. Reading the article by Mr. Hess I see that nothing has changed, typical of an agency which is under staffed and lacking expertise in the field they are supposed to be regulating. Five hundred million dollars of wasteful spending and mismanagement of resources is par for the course.

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