Congress likely to maintain annual review of chemical security law

01 August 2012 17:35  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS)--Long-running problems with the federal programme for antiterrorism security at US chemical facilities means that Congress is not likely to give the plan a multi-year extension anytime soon, congressional staffers said on Wednesday.

Speaking to some 600 industry executives on the final day of the sixth annual Chemical Sector Security Summit (CSSS), staff members at two key House committees said that in light of newly revealed problems with the programme, Congress likely will want to keep extending it on a year-by-year basis in order to maintain close oversight.

The programme, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), was set up in 2007 under a congressional mandate, designed to establish 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.

The programme has been under operational control of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

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

The audit, aired in part at congressional hearings, found widespread personnel and training problems, inadequate equipment in some instances and purchase of unneeded gear in other cases.

Five years into the programme, one of its most essential features – on-site inspection of chemical facility security measures – has yet to begin at any significant level, according to industry officials.

Industry would prefer to see a five- or perhaps seven-year extension of the programme to provide producers with a period of certainty to implement security measures and budget related costs without fear of shifting standards and new regulatory demands every time Congress renews the authorising statute.

But such a multi-year extension does not appear likely now.

Jerry Couri, senior professional staff member for the majority on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that “many members of the House feel strongly about providing industry with some certainty, but because of the challenges that we’ve now seen with CFATS, Congress will want to be sure that the programme is operating in the way that Congress intended”.

The only way that Congress can ensure its oversight for the programme, he said, was to continue annual authorisation renewals.  The Energy and Commerce Committee has direct oversight responsibility for CFATS.

Monica Sanders, counsel to the House Homeland Security Committee, agreed with Couri, noting that “one-year authorisations guarantee a strong oversight role for Congress”.

“The audit showed that CFATS was not operating the way it should, so those circumstances make it difficult for Congress to grant a long-term authorisation,” she said.

Chris Schepis, senior professional staff member for the minority on the House Homeland Security Committee, also noted that committee members are anxious to keep short-term authorisations for the chemical site security programme, simply because “short-term authorisations mean strong oversight control”.

Cosponsored by DHS and the industry-based Chemical Sector Co-ordinating Council (CSCC), the two-day summit concluded on Wednesday.

By: Joe Kamalick
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