Administration Cites Lapse in Chemical-Security Effort as Reason to End Shutdown

Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire
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Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire
Oct. 7, 2013, 11:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is adding the clos­ure of the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment’s chem­ic­al se­cur­ity pro­gram to its list of reas­ons why Con­gress should end the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down that began last week.

The Chem­ic­al Fa­cil­it­ies Anti-ter­ror­ism Stand­ards pro­gram, which is in the middle of a multi-year ef­fort to ap­prove se­cur­ity plans for high risk chem­ic­al plants in the United States, ceased most op­er­a­tions last week as a res­ult of the con­gres­sion­al stale­mate over fisc­al 2014 spend­ing and health-care re­form, Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire re­por­ted. Con­gress has yet to per­man­ently au­thor­ize the CFATS pro­gram, so the fail­ure to pass a spend­ing bill means the ini­ti­at­ive not only lacks funds but also the leg­al au­thor­ity to op­er­ate.

“This un­der­scores the need for the shut­down to end, and for Con­gress to pass a per­man­ent reau­thor­iz­a­tion of the CFATS pro­gram,” DHS spokes­man Clark Stevens said in a state­ment to GSN. Stevens con­firmed that em­ploy­ees of the In­fra­struc­ture Se­cur­ity Com­pli­ance Di­vi­sion, which runs the chem­ic­al se­cur­ity pro­gram, have been fur­loughed.

However, “chem­ic­al fa­cil­it­ies should con­tin­ue to com­ply with the re­quire­ments of CFATS, in­clud­ing con­tinu­ing to com­ply with the ex­ist­ing and planned se­cur­ity meas­ures in any ap­proved site se­cur­ity plan or al­tern­at­ive se­cur­ity pro­gram,” Stevens said. A Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate aid pre­vi­ously told GSN the ad­min­is­tra­tion is mak­ing a leg­al de­term­in­a­tion that it is not the in­tent of Con­gress to can­cel the pro­gram, giv­en that pro­posed spend­ing bills in both cham­bers would have ex­ten­ded the ini­ti­at­ive.

The in­def­in­ite shut­down of the pro­gram, however, is caus­ing con­cern among law­makers re­gard­ing how the gov­ern­ment will im­prove safety and se­cur­ity in the wake of chem­ic­al dis­asters in Texas and Louisi­ana this year. The gov­ern­ment had just be­gun work un­der an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der Pres­id­ent Obama is­sued in re­sponse to the in­cid­ents. Chief among the con­cerns the or­der was meant to ad­dress was that the DHS pro­gram was un­aware of the Texas fa­cil­ity’s ex­ist­ence when it ex­ploded in April, killing 14 people and lev­el­ing nearby homes.

“Over the past few days, we have seen the harm­ful im­pact the fed­er­al shut­down has had across our na­tion, from fur­loughed fed­er­al work­ers to hal­ted pro­grams that im­pact mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans, in­clud­ing our chem­ic­al se­cur­ity pro­gram,”  Sen­at­or Thomas Carp­er (D-Del.) said in a state­ment to GSN. “As we saw earli­er this year with the tra­gic ex­plo­sions at chem­ic­al fa­cil­it­ies in Texas and Louisi­ana, it’s im­port­ant that we make sure that chem­ic­als are be­ing pro­duced, dis­trib­uted and stored in a man­ner that is both safe and se­cure.”

Pre­vi­ously, Rep. Ben­nie Thompson (Miss.), the top Demo­crat on the House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee,” called the CFATS shut­down an “un­con­scion­able … res­ult of Re­pub­lic­an games­man­ship.”

In­dustry sup­port­ers of the pro­gram also had strong words. Bill All­mond, vice pres­id­ent for gov­ern­ment re­la­tions at the So­ci­ety of Chem­ic­al Man­u­fac­tur­ers and Af­fil­i­ates, told GSN that as a res­ult of the shut­down, Con­gress would have to turn ques­tions re­gard­ing the pace of CFATS im­ple­ment­a­tion “back on it­self.”

Carp­er, who chairs the Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee, said he would work with his col­leagues to not only end the par­tial gov­ern­ment clos­ure but also to en­sure that the CFATS pro­gram “isn’t as vul­ner­able to these reck­less shut­downs” in the fu­ture.

Ef­forts to pass le­gis­la­tion per­man­ently au­thor­iz­ing the pro­gram have gone nowhere in re­cent years, however. The Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee has ef­fect­ively blocked such bills, cit­ing con­cerns the pro­gram has not com­pleted site in­spec­tions and se­cur­ity plan re­views fast enough.

Labor and en­vir­on­ment­al groups, mean­while, have ar­gued the pro­gram lacks the teeth needed to en­sure fa­cil­it­ies are safe and se­cure, and have called on the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency to fill the per­ceived void — a pro­spect strongly op­posed by in­dustry of­fi­cials.

Early in Ju­ly, DHS pro­gram head Dav­id Wulf ar­gued the ini­ti­at­ive had “turned a corner.” He noted that as of last Ju­ly, the ef­fort had only giv­en pre­lim­in­ary ap­prov­al to 50 site-se­cur­ity plans, con­duc­ted only 10 in­spec­tions and had not gran­ted fi­nal ap­prov­al to single se­cur­ity plan since the CFATS pro­gram was first au­thor­ized by Con­gress in 2007.

One year later, the pro­gram had pre­lim­in­ary ap­proved “up­wards of 500” se­cur­ity plans, con­duc­ted more than 50 in­spec­tions and gran­ted fi­nal ap­prov­al for 160 plans, he said.

However, later the same month, House Re­pub­lic­ans hin­ted this was not good enough. In a Ju­ly 22 let­ter threat­en­ing to try to re­duce funds for the pro­gram, GOP law­makers com­plained of a “back­log of ap­prox­im­ately 3,120 fa­cil­it­ies” where se­cur­ity plans still needed re­view.

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