New federal policy changes to delay US chem site security plans

31 July 2012 03:37  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS)--New changes in federal policy on plant workers' security clearances may further delay a key national programme for chemical facility antiterrorism protection that is already some five years behind schedule, industry officials said on Monday.

Bill Allmond, vice president for government and public relations at the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), said that the decision last week by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to withdraw its nearly two-year-old proposal for plant site worker security screening could cause an indefinite delay in getting overall chemical facility antiterrorism measures implemented and certified.

In a congressional testimony last week, DHS said it was withdrawing its proposal, first put forward in 2010, to have every chemical facility employee and unescorted plant site visitor vetted through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) terrorist suspect list.

Industry opposed the plan, fearing it would cost millions of dollars and perhaps years to fully implement.

Security clearances for plant site workers, vendors and other visitors – known as personal surety in rules-speak – are part of the five-year-old Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS).

Mandated by Congress, those regulations were to set security benchmarks that plant operators were to meet in order reduce if not eliminate the risk of attacks by terrorists seeking to cause massive off-site casualties by targeting a chemical plant.

But, as revealed in an internal audit late last year and in subsequent congressional hearings, the CFATs programme is far behind schedule. 

The programme was to include on-site inspections by DHS of some 4,500 US chemical production, transport or storage sites determined to be at high risk of a potential terrorist attack.

But no inspections have taken place so far, according to industry sources, in part because of long-standing personnel issues at the responsible DHS office, and because no standard has been set for worker security clearance procedures.

Without a federal standard for worker clearances, on-site inspections would be pointless because site operators could not know what criteria to meet.

Industry had urged the department to adopt an existing federal system, the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) programme that was initiated by the US Coast Guard in 2002 to vet workers and visitors at port facilities and other sensitive sites.

However, DHS declined to adopt TWIC, preferring its own, separate system.

Allmond said that now that DHS has withdrawn its worker security proposal, “we don’t know how long it might be before the department can come up with a new plan”.

“We don’t see how they [the department] can initiate another plan quickly,” Allmond said, “because government and industry will have to come to some sort of agreement on how to go forward.”

DHS officials are expected to address the personal surety issue and other aspects of CFATS at the 6th annual Chemical Sector Security Summit (CSSS) that convenes here on Tuesday.

Allmond, whose trade group is one of the summit sponsors, said that “we share the frustrations of Congress” in how long it has taken the department to get CFATS up and running.

Speaking on the sidelines of the summit, Allmond said that he now has a higher level of confidence that a new set of administrators put in place at DHS to run the programme will get things moving.

The 650 industry security officials who are expected for the conference also are to hear from congressional aides on what steps Congress might take next year toward what industry hopes will be a five-year extension of the existing CFATS.

Cosponsored by DHS and the industry-based Chemical Sector Co-ordinating Council (CSCC), the summit runs through Wednesday.

By: Joe Kamalick
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