CFATS Bill in Works

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 @ 06:01 PM gHale

Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) has been an issue in the industry for quite a while. Does it work or does it need more teeth?

The program has had to travel some rocky paths over the past few years as congressional leaders have found wasted spending and personnel issues. But there is now a bill in the works that could improve how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) manages a set of performance-based guidelines for high-risk chemical facilities, or CFATS.

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The bill would benefit security personnel at those sites in making the standards permanent.

Introduced in 2009 as part of the DHS Appropriations Act, CFATS comprise a set of 18 federal regulations that facilities housing hazardous materials must comply with. The regulations, imposed by DHS, consist of requirements for physical and cyber security, as well as for other functional areas.

The legislation comes in part from the 2013 explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, TX.

Another critical component of the push for permanent reauthorization of the standards is mobilizing a working group, consisting primarily of security integrators, who can weigh in on the bill before it ends up finalized.

At it stands now, the timeline for the bill landing could be in March, when the Senate holds its first oversight hearing. But on the House side, there’s the possibility the House Homeland Security Committee could convene and have a bill ready n a month from now.

CFATS first came into being in 2007 when Congress directed DHS to create a chemical facility counterterrorism security regulation program. The original congressional language specified a program termination date of three years later, a date that subsequent appropriations bills have periodically extended.

When Oct. 4 last year came and went without an appropriations bill in place, CFATS’s legal underpinning expired.

In May, until DHS delivered a spending plan and progress report for CFATS, members of the House were looking to withhold $20 million in fiscal 2014 funds.

A spending bill released by the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee allocates $77.1 million for the DHS Infrastructure Security Compliance Division, which is responsible for implementing CFATS. This is $763,000 less than what Congress approved for this budget year and $8.7 million less than what the Obama administration has requested for fiscal 2014, committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said at the time.

In addition, the bill would withhold $20 million in DHS funds until the department submits “an expenditure plan for the Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Standards program that includes the number of facilities covered by the program, inspectors on-board, inspections pending, and inspections projected to be completed by Sept. 30, 2014,” according to the legislation.

Lawmakers scrutinized the CFATS program, particularly since an internal memo reporting numerous problems with the initiative leaked in late 2011. The program, which should help protect high-risk chemical plants and other facilities from sabotage, was suffering from a litany of management issues and department personnel were slow to complete reviews of site security plans, according to the memo.

April’s fertilizer plant explosion that leveled homes and killed at least 14 people in West, TX added to concern about the program’s effectiveness. The CFATS program was not regulating the facility, even though it held enough dangerous chemicals to trigger coverage.

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