14 March 2013 18:39 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (ICIS)--It might take another nine years for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to complete implementing the five-year-old programme to protect chemical plants from terrorist attacks, a new report said on Thursday.
An audit submitted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Commerce said that many problems remain in the long-troubled DHS effort to fully implement the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS).
Speaking at the hearing, Stephen Caldwell, director of homeland security issues at GAO and author of the audit, said that among other things, the department’s criteria and process for determining which chemical facilities are at higher risk for attack are flawed and not in keeping with the CFATS law approved by Congress in 2006.
Under CFATS, chemical facilities deemed to be at high risk for a terrorist attack must evaluate their security arrangements and submit a plan to the department on how the plant’s protections can be improved to meet federal standards.
But Caldwell said that the department “does not consider all of the elements of consequence, threat and vulnerability associated with a terrorist attack", and that consequently DHS cannot be certain of risks posed by particular facilities.
He said that while the department is taking steps to improve its pace of reviewing the site security plans (SSPs) that the approximately 3,100 regulated facilities are required to submit, the process could take as long as nine years.
Caldwell said that using the department’s “expected plan approval rate of 30 to 40 plans a month, GAO estimated that it could take another seven to nine years before [the department] is able to complete reviews on the approximately 3,120 plans in its queue”.
The department’s implementation of CFATS also came under criticism from industry, with complaints that some enforcement compliance deadlines are too short, the review process cited by Caldwell is too slow and that fully five years after the programme was launched there is still no department process for doing security background checks on facility workers and vendors.
Bill Allmond, vice president for government relations at the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), told the panel that the DHS on-site security review process requires an “enormous amount of time and resources to prepare for an inspection and, in particular, to respond to one after it has been completed”.
Allmond complained that the small- and medium-size specialty and batch chemical producers in SOCMA don’t have large staffs and other assets needed to respond within the department’s 30-day post-inspection mandate.
“Our members have encountered so far an unwillingness to reasonably extend deadlines or provide additional time for facility response,” he said.
Timothy Scott, chief security officer at Dow Chemical Company, also cited the long delays that are anticipated in the department’s processing of “a mountain” of site security plans.
More troubling, said Scott, is that DHS still “does not currently have a workable personnel surety programme (PSP) in place”.
That programme is mandated by CFATS and is supposed to establish means for security background checks for employees and suppliers that have access to at-risk plant sites.
Speaking for the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Scott said that “this deficiency is a significant issue that must be addressed to ensure that all high-risk chemical facilities are safe, secure and fully comply with CFATS.”
Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), also cited the delay in getting a background check process established, saying: “The PSP programme must be fixed soon”.
Drevna also complained that while AFPM had offered to make key chemical company executives available to DHS to help train the department’s site inspectors, “DHS has yet to take us up on this offer”.
Rand Beers, DHS under-secretary with responsibility for the CFATS programme, told the subcommittee: “We believe the department has turned a corner on the CFATS programme”.
“We are moving forward strategically to address the challenges before us,” he said.
The department’s years-long effort to get the CFATS programme fully operational came under sharp criticism in Congress early last year when an internal DHS memo revealed widespread staffing, administrative and acquisition problems.
One senator charged that the $500m (€385m) already spent on CFATS had been wasted and the implementation programme was a failure.
($1 = €0.77)
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