US chemical site security enforcement is better but still lacking

26 July 2012 19:48  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--Federal regulators have made some progress in implementing anti-terrorism security measures at US chemical facilities, a government auditor said on Thursday, but five years after it was set up, the programme still is not fully functional.

An audit of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) programme under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) found that while the department is taking steps to better manage enforcement, “it is too early to assess results”.

Stephen Caldwell, director for homeland security issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told the House Appropriations Committee that the DHS “has identified numerous challenges it has encountered implementing the CFATS programme and has developed an action plan that is intended to help address these challenges”.

“This appears to be a step in the right direction,” Caldwell told the committee, but added that “it is too early to tell whether they will have the effect of helping [DHS] overcome and resolve all the problems it has identified.” The GAO is the audit and investigation arm of Congress.

CFATS was set up in April 2007 by Congress to set security standards for chemical production, storage or use sites that might be vulnerable to an attack by terrorists seeking to cause major off-site casualties.

Under the regulations, nearly 4,500 sites in the US were identified as potentially at high risk of attack and were required to conduct vulnerability assessments and present a site security plan (SSP) to the department for approval and later on-site inspection.

But a classified internal review at the DHS in November last year found a “slow pace of the site security plan approval process, the lack of an established inspection process and the [department’s] inability to perform compliance inspections five and one-half years after enactment of the CFATS statute and a lack of an established records management system to document key decisions”.

That report also found widespread staffing issues, including inadequate training capability, an overreliance on hired consultants, inappropriate staff promotions and faulty job descriptions.

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.

Also appearing before the Appropriations Committee, DHS deputy undersecretary Suzanne Spaulding said that as of last week, the department has reviewed the site security plans for the highest-risk chemical plant sites and has approved 63 of them.

Spaulding also said that DHS inspectors have resumed on-site inspections at the highest-risk plant sites.

“This is a vital step for moving the CFATS programme toward a regular cycle of approving SSPs and conducting compliance inspections for facilities with approved SSPs,” she said.

But in her testimony, Spaulding said the earlier decision by the Appropriations Committee to reduce the Obama administration’s $75m (€61.5m) funding request for CFATS operations in 2013 to only $45.4m “would drastically curtail” the department’s ability to implement the programme.

She said that the DHS expects to spend about $35m in salaries and benefits as it builds the CFATS enforcement team up to its anticipated full strength of around 240 members.

Those costs would leave the department with only $12m to implement CFATS.

“DHS would be forced to cease virtually all activities under CFATS other than those directly related to reviewing SSPs and performing facility inspections,” Spaulding said.

($1 = €0.82)

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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