House bill would rein in DHS plans for CFATS program

House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies Chairman Patrick Meehan (R-PA) and Representative Gene Green (D-TX) today introduced a bipartisan bill to recodify the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) Program on February 6. Industry groups are applauding the Congressional action.

The bill introduced February 6 would provide a two-year reauthorization of the CFATS program in exchange for fixing what some believe are serious flaws in the program. This legislation gives DHS time to address needed improvements to the program including expediting the process of certifying facilities. Another key provision authorizes DHS to allow facilities to meet their requirements through alternative security plans.

Of great concern is DHS’s proposal to compel industry to adopt its personnel surety program of background screenings for anyone needing unescorted access to regulated facilities, such as storage terminals, chemical plants, and ports. Those covered by the DHS proposal would include facility employees, truck drivers, and contractors.

“The original CFATS authorization disallowed DHS from approving or denying any facility security plan based on the presence or absence of any particular measure,” says Peter Weaver with the International Liquid Terminals Association. “The DHS proposal recently published in the Federal Register flies in the face of that. DHS’s proposal would require facilties to submit background checks from the FBI terrorist database for every individual 48-hours in advance of a facility visit regardless of other background check credentials.

“We are absolutely against the proposal recently published by DHS. We support what the House of Representatives in proposing in its legislation.”

Credentials being excluded or ignored by DHS would include the Transportation Worker Identity Credential (TWIC), the tank truck driver’s Transportation Security Administration-mandated hazmat endorsement, and the TSA Trusted Traveler Global Entry card. That’s odd, because TSA is a part of DHS. The TWIC card was mandated through the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002.

DHS developed the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program in 2007 as a way to ensure that chemical facilities across the country were protected from the threat of terrorism. The program was originally scheduled to sunset in October of 2009, but it has continued to remain in place via the annual appropriations process approved by Congress. 

"Deterring terrorism is always a top priority for our industry. Legislation that provides consistent and concise mandates so our industry can provide the highest level of security is critically important," said John Shanahan, vice-president of legislative affairs at the National Association of Chemical Distributors. "This bill is a much needed step in the right direction and creates a multi-year extension of the program. Ultimately we hope that the CFATS program will become permanent." 

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