US chemical officials again blast federal site security plan

11 September 2012 20:01  [Source: ICIS news]

US producers charge failure in federal security plansWASHINGTON (ICIS)--US industry officials on Tuesday renewed criticism of the federal programme for antiterrorism security at chemical plants, charging that flawed implementation and repeated delays have imposed substantial uncertainties and costs on regulated companies.

Speaking on the 11th anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the US and six years after Congress mandated federal standards for chemical site security, industry officials and members of the House complained that implementation is still far behind schedule.

In 2006 Congress approved legislation to establish federal standards for antiterrorism security at high-risk chemical production, storage and transit sites. In the following year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) established its Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) programme.

But according to a recent DHS internal review, earlier congressional hearings and a federal audit, in five years the department has yet to meet fundamental goals of the programme.

A leading member of the Senate more recently termed the department’s implementation of CFATS “a $500m [€390m] failure”.

In testimony on Tuesday before the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, Pilot Chemical corporate security officer Matthew Leary said that “the way that DHS has implemented the CFATS regulations has imposed substantial uncertainties and costs on companies”.

Leary, who testified on behalf of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), told the panel that “the most frustrating aspect of CFATS implementation has been not knowing, for years now, how much to budget for compliance”.

He said that many chemicals producers subject to CFATS requirements have limited capital and cash flow and, not knowing if or when the department will establish security criteria for specific sites, must keep compliance funds in reserve and unavailable for capital improvements or routine operational expenses.

“Besides tying up assets and preventing productive investments, the extended delays in implementation of CFATS also lead companies to question whether their government is really serious about the security of chemical facilities,” he said.

Under the standards, high-risk chemical sites are required to conduct security vulnerability assessments and submit to the DHS plans to correct flaws or improve protection to meet criteria set by the department.

The DHS is required to review, approve or revise those site security plans (SSPs) and then make follow-up inspections at plant sites.

However, Leary cited the department’s own testimony in noting that to date “only one SSP has been conditionally approved”.

Dow Chemical chief security officer Timothy Scott told the committee that while the risk-based CFATS security concept is sound, “there are still some hurdles to overcome”.

Testifying on behalf of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Scott was critical of long delays and misdirection in the department’s plans, now withdrawn, to establish means for plant operators to get security clearances for on-site employees and visiting vendors and contractors.

While plant operators are responsible for checking a prospective employee’s identity, criminal history and work eligibility, they must rely on the federal government to evaluate new hires or contractors against the terrorist screening database (TSDB) maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Scott told the panel that “In the discussion of TSDB screening, there is one area in which all security managers agree – we should know that a person can pass the TSDB before we issue an entry card”.

“It is not clear that DHS management is in agreement with this important point, and that is a cause for concern,” Scott said.

In reviewing the problems plaguing the CFATS programme, subcommittee chairman John Shimkus (Republican-Illinois) said that “for all the support Congress has given over the years, CFATS should have more to show than rappelling ropes, hazmat suits and delayed implementation”.

Shimkus said that his subcommittee would seek explanations from the DHS on how the department plans to improve CFATS implementation.

($1 = €0.78)

By: Joe Kamalick
+1 713 525 2653

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