Ms. CLARKE of New York. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the ranking member who has done a yeoman's job in helping alongside our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to move this forward.
Mr. Speaker, the Committee on Homeland Security has a great stake and a long history of trying to help the troubled Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards, or CFATS, program succeed. Consideration of H.R. 4007 today is our latest effort.
While I feel that it would have been better to bring this bill before the full House under a rule, so that Members could offer amendments, I want to commend my counterpart on the Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies Subcommittee, Mr. Meehan, for his diligence and commitment to moving the legislation through regular order in committee.
Upon introduction of this bill, I had a number of concerns with the bill. Amazingly, the original legislation had a requirement that required CFATS to terminate after 2 years.
It also did not provide an authorization of appropriations or codify the critical infrastructure protection program within the Homeland Security Act. This was corrected by Democratic amendments, many of which I offered, that were accepted in committee.
A major impetus for action to authorize the CFATS program was certainly the explosion last April in West, Texas, at a fertilizer facility containing a huge amount of ammonium nitrate. As we later learned, the facility was willfully off the regulatory grid and unknown to DHS.
Through the committee process, language was adopted to give DHS new authority to bring so-called outlier facilities into compliance. We had an energetic debate at subcommittee with respect to whether nongovernmental third-party contractors should be utilized to carry out compliance visits and inspections.
I appreciate the majority's view that augmenting the DHS inspector workforce in this fashion could be helpful with respect to the massive backlog of security inspections that exist in the CFATS program. However, there are other ways to increase capacity without contracting out jobs.
Further, there is a troubled history with the CFATS program of overreliance on contractors. I believe that, if DHS goes down this path, there need to be structures in place to ensure that work done by contractors is promptly and accurately fed into the regulatory system. That is why I offered language in committee to build in oversight and accountability. I am pleased to say that it was accepted.
A lingering concern--underscored by the Steelworkers, Teamsters, and others--is even if there is broad recognition that, for CFATS to work, we need chemical workers to come forward to report security vulnerabilities and CFATS compliance issues, no guaranteed whistleblower protections attach.
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Ms. CLARKE of New York. Men and women that risk their positions and paychecks to make their workplace, their communities, and the Nation more secure deserve access to meaningful whistleblower protections. Should H.R. 4007 be approved today, I would put whistleblower protections high on the to-do list for the Senate.
Then there is the matter of the statutory exemptions barring DHS from regulatory water, wastewater, and other critical infrastructure chemical facilities. The bill perpetuates the exemption without consideration of the arguments that former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and others have made about the risks.
Encouragingly, the committee accepted the amendment offered by Ranking Member Thompson to require an independent study of the terrorism vulnerabilities associated with the limited authority granted to DHS and the exemption on water and wastewater facilities. The results of that study will be important to inform Congress when the CFATS is up for reauthorization in 3 years.
Overall, I would say that, through the committee process, the bill has been improved. Is there more work to be done? Certainly--that is why I am profoundly disappointed that H.R. 4007 is being considered on suspension.
Many Members of this body that do not have the privilege to sit on the Homeland Security Committee have concerns about the vital, critical infrastructure program that affects their districts, towns, and neighborhoods.
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