DHS Undersecretary Defends CFATS Progress

During a House subcommittee hearing on 9/11’s 11th anniversary, most witnesses said they support the program’s approach.

With Congress back from a five-week summer break, committees returned to some of their top priorities, including the progress to date of DHS' Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), a program intended to make chemical facilities safer. Much of the earlier debate focused on whether DHS could or should require facilities to implement inherently safer technologies, but the Sept. 12 hearing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy asked whether CFATS is moving fast enough in the right directions.

DHS's current authority to implement CFATS extends only until Oct. 4, 2012, unless Congress extends it, DHS Undersecretary Rand Beers testified during the hearing as he listed progress to date. More than 2,700 chemical facilities have eliminated, reduced, or modified their stockpiles of dangerous chemicals and are no longer considered high risk, Beers said. He said CFATS covered 4,433 high-risk facilities as of Sept. 4, 2012, and 3,660 of them have developed security plans for review, with the remainder awaiting their final tier determinations.

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, the subcommittee's chairman, opened with a statement in which he said he supports the CFATS statute and believes its implementing regulations are reasonable. He congratulated DHS for completing 59 or its 95 corrective actions and asked about progress on the others.

Cathleen Berrick, managing director of the Government Accountability Office's Homeland Security and Justice Team, also testified.

Timothy J. Scott, chief security officer at The Dow Chemical Company, testified on behalf of his company and the American Chemistry Council. He said CFATS is making progress and its concept is "fundamentally sound -– risk-based and focused on the right priorities," as he put it. He told the committee that personnel security is one area where the chemical industry can use Congress' help. Beers explained that DHS proposed a CFATS Personnel Surety Program in June 2011 but withdrew it a year later after learning more from the industry about how their background checks comply with the CFATS Risk-Based Performance Standard 12. He said DHS soon will publish another Personnel Surety Program and seek comments on it.

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