On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy held a hearing today to review progress of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) Program in helping facilities implement security plans to protect against terrorists threats. The tragic events of September 11, 2001, prompted Congress to make securing our nation's chemical facilities a homeland security priority and spurred the creation of the CFATS program.
"Six years ago this month we authorized the CFATS program, conscious that the next terrorist incursion could come from within a chemical plant instead of onboard an airplane. It is one of many facets of our complex economy that we look at differently in the shadow of 9/11, even as we recognize its important role in our nation's system of commerce," said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI).
Today's hearing follows a previous subcommittee hearing, held on February 3, 2012 to discuss an internal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo that exposed flaws and achievement gaps within the CFATS program. In response to this disturbing memo, several members of Congress asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the program and determine what steps DHS is taking to address the identified problems through its Infrastructure Security Compliance Division (ISCD) Action Plan. The subcommittee today received an update from DHS on the status of the CFATS program, progress made, and remaining work to be accomplished. The GAO also testified on its ongoing report, which is examining DHS' execution of the action plan.
"Seven months after our panel first heard sworn testimony from Under Secretary Beers about the state of CFATS and its plan forward, today is our checkup on how things are going at DHS," said Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL).
Rand Beers, Under Secretary of the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) at DHS, today gave an optimistic report on DHS' progress, testifying, "At my direction, the program's leadership outlined its priorities, the challenges it believes the program faces, and a proposed path forward to address those challenges and accomplish program objectives. As the Directorate with oversight responsibility for the CFATS program, NPPD is continually evaluating the program to identify areas for improvement and correcting course when necessary to ensure proper implementation. I am pleased to inform you that NPPD has made progress on all 95 of the action items now included in the ISCD Action Plan and as of September 4, 2012, has completed 59 of them."
Despite DHS' assurances that CFATS is correcting its course, many members of the subcommittee expressed frustration with the program's delay and lack of action. Chairman Shimkus remarked, "For all the support Congress has given over the years, CFATS should have more to show than repelling ropes, hazmat suits, and delayed implementation."
Cathleen Berrick, Managing Director of the Homeland Security and Justice Team at GAO, gave an update on GAO's analysis of the ISCD action plan. According to her testimony, the program still has a long way to go toward accomplishing its mission. She stated, "What will dictate whether or not it's successful is whether it's able to execute its mission, and I think they are still in the early phases of positioning themselves to be able to do that."
Testifying on behalf of Dow Chemical and the American Chemistry Council, Timothy Scott explained the need for continued collaboration between DHS and industry to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks through the CFATS program. "Industry and DHS have made progress in improving the security of the chemical sector. There have been missteps, but we can make the necessary corrections and achieve successful results," said Scott. "It takes commitment and collaboration. We should not return to square one with DHS or change course in mid-stream. Instead we should strengthen the collaboration between DHS and industry with the unified goal of increasing the pace to build an efficient, integrated and sustainable chemical security process for our country."
Matthew Leary, testifying on behalf of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, echoed the need for collaboration to make CFATS a successful program. "The CFATS framework is sound, but DHS's implementation has been flawed. This is largely because DHS has drifted away from the spirit of the public-private partnership on chemical security that it has so often hailed as a keystone of the CFATS program," said Leary. "Congress should encourage ISCD to work collaboratively with the regulated community to solve the technical, training and tool-related issues currently presenting challenges to the implementation of CFATS."