US chemical security plan is a $500m failure – senator

09 August 2012 18:55  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--Mismanagement of the federal programme for anti-terrorism security at US chemical production sites is even worse than suspected, a top-ranking senator said on Thursday, including wasteful spending of up to $500m (€405m).

Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has demanded that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary Janet Napolitano provide detailed answers by Monday to a wide range of alleged fraud and mismanagement in the five-year-old chemicals site security programme.

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.

But, as revealed in an internal DHS audit late last year and in subsequent congressional hearings, 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 purchases of unneeded gear in other cases.

One of its most essential features of CFATS – on-site inspection of chemical facility security measures – has yet to begin at any significant level, according to industry and government officials.

In his letter to Napolitano, Grassley charged that the situation is far worse than indicated in last year’s DHS audit.

“Unfortunately, it appears that these concerns [in the audit] were only the tip of the iceberg,” Grassley told Napolitano.

The senator said that a whistleblower, apparently a DHS employee, has contacted his office with “further details of DHS’s mismanagement of the CFATS programme”.

“According to this whistleblower,” Grassley said, “the details of the CFATS programme’s shortcomings go far beyond what has previously been reported.”

Among other allegations, Grassley said that department officials assigned CFATS employees to non-existent field offices across the country, a tactic said to be designed to create higher but unwarranted pay rates for those staff members.

He also charged that DHS officials in the CFATS programme purchased hundreds of chemical hazardous materials protective suits and specially designed rugged laptop computers that were of no use for the site security inspection work.

“In fact, CFATS procured so many items it had no use for that it had to ask for extra storage space,” Grassley said.

Grassley also alleged that top-ranking DHS officials responsible for the CFATS programme were made aware of the waste and mismanagement but apparently tried to conceal the problems.

“The whistleblower alleges that when a memo documenting and referring problems with the programme to the [DHS] inspector general was submitted to DHS Undersecretary Rand Beers, he refused to report the information to the inspector general,” Grassley said.

US cabinet departments such as DHS typically have an independent official, an inspector general, responsible for monitoring department operations to ensure the public’s interests and taxpayer funds are being correctly pursued and spent.

Grassley said that if the unnamed whistleblower’s accusations are true, “they show a systemic failure of the CFATS programme that has placed Americans in danger and wasted close to $500m in taxpayer dollars”, Grassley said.

The senator demanded that Napolitano respond by Monday to some 30 detailed questions regarding CFATS staffing, purchasing and operations.

Beers recently told a chemicals industry security conference that while there had been some problems in getting the CFATS programme up and running, most of the issues had been resolved and progress was being made.

($1 = €0.81)

By: Joe Kamalick
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