US chemical site security enforcement is foundering - Congress

03 February 2012 18:59  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--Enforcement of the four-year-old federal antiterrorism security mandate for US chemical plants is behind schedule, inadequately staffed and hindered by a range of administrative problems, a congressional panel said on Friday.

Representative John Shimkus (Republican-Illinois), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, told a hearing that his confidence “is not strong” in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its ability to ensure security at the nation’s chemical facilities.

Shimkus said he was surprised and disappointed to learn that the department’s implementation of the 2007 Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) is fraught with delays and a dozen or more administrative and staffing problems.

In a hearing to evaluate the department’s management of the antiterrorism programme, Shimkus said that he still supports the CFATS legislation and that “I still believe security at facilities with chemicals is much better today than before Congress gave DHS this first-ever regulatory authority”.

“Unfortunately, my confidence in DHS and the substantial amounts Congress has given to it is not nearly as strong,” he said.

A subcommittee staff memo on the department’s management of CFATS noted that Congress has given DHS more than $300m (€228m) since 2007 to implement the programme.

But a classified internal review at DHS in November last year found broad errors in the department’s decisions on classifying potential terrorism risks for chemical facilities and numerous staffing problems.

Among the staffing issues summarised by the subcommittee staff included inadequate training capability, an overreliance on hired consultants, inappropriate staff promotions and faulty job descriptions.

The subcommittee memo summarising the internal DHS review also cited a lack of experienced managers on the CFATS enforcement staff, new hires placed in work roles for which they had no qualifications, and a lack of regulatory compliance expertise.

Those problems apparently contributed to lengthy delays in the departments review of chemical facility site security plans (SSPs), which plant operators are required to draw up for DHS approval.

Rand Beers, undersecretary for the DHS National Protection and Programmes Directorate (NPPD), told the hearing that the rush to get the CFATS programme up and running in 2007 resulted in some decisions that later proved inappropriate.  The NPPD has operational responsibility for the CFATS programme.

“For example, at the programme outset, certain roles and responsibilities were envisioned for the staff that, in the end, did not apply,” he said.  “This resulted in the hiring of some employees whose skills did not match their ultimate job responsibilities and the purchase of some equipment that in hindsight appear to be unnecessary for chemical inspectors.”

Beers said that the department is taking steps to improve administrative and staffing problems, and he noted that in recent months the agency has reviewed and approved 53 site security plans from among the 115 chemical facilities that are considered to be most at risk for a potential terrorist attack.

Shimkus said that he regards the CFATS programme an important element of his subcommittee’s jurisdiction and that he plans to accelerate the panel’s supervision of steps DHS will be taking to correct shortcomings.

($1 = €0.76)

By: Joe Kamalick
+1 713 525 2653

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