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.