CFATS Back in Place

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 @ 10:10 AM gHale

Funding for the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program is now in place after the government restored its spending plan through Jan. 15.

CFATS first came into being in 2007 when Congress directed the Department of Homeland Security 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.

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When Oct. 4 came and went without an appropriations bill in place, CFATS’s legal underpinning expired. Now, however, CFATS staff reported back to work and CFATS- operations are back at pre-furlough levels.

The lapse in authority for the program “underscores the need for Congress to pass a permanent reauthorization of the CFATS program. This will provide industry with the necessary certainty to move forward in effectively implementing CFATS,” DHS spokesman S.Y. Lee said.

The program has had to travel some rocky paths over the past few years as congressional leaders have found wasted spending and personnel issues.

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, Texas 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.

For fiscal 2013 the House Appropriations Committee sought a 40 percent funding cut for the program. This year’s figure represents a 10 percent cut below what the administration is seeking for the infrastructure security division that runs the program – not counting the additional $20 million in department funds withheld until the department submits the information lawmakers are requesting. Hing said they would hold back the money from the division’s parent body, the National Protection and Programs Directorate.

According to the May 2013 fact sheet, the program covers 4,351 facilities.

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