One of the hottest topics in the government relations arena right now is the ongoing debate about how long and how much to regulate chemical facilities and those facilities that use chemicals which could make them vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
The 2007 Chemical Facilities Anti-terrorism Standards (CFATS) program was a provision of the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill. Designed to authorize DHS to regulate facilities that use large quantities of “high risk” chemicals, CFATS requires covered chemical facilities to conduct a Top-screen and document which chemicals they have and in what quantities. From there DHS reviews the information in light of the 200 plus chemicals on its Chemicals of Interest (COI) list and classifies the facilities into one of four “tiers” — with tier 1 being the highest risk and tier 4 the lowest.
Those deemed high-risk are then required to develop and implement security plans to combat potential terrorist acts. Congress further established fines of $25,000 per day and the ability to shut down any facility that fails to comply with these regulations.
Since beginning implementation of CFATS in 2008, DHS has received more than 38,000 initial Top-screens and tiered more than 4,755 facilities (with 700-plus in the top two tiers). While tiered facility specifics are classified, the number of facilities being evaluated and tiered continues to expand.
What is important to note about the CFATS program as it stands right now is that, although site security plans have to comply with 18 risk-based performance standards developed by DHS, facilities are not told specifically which solutions they have to use to comply with those standards. Some of the standards relate to physical security and others do not, but affected facilities have to ensure adequate perimeter security, monitoring and sometimes cyber security. DHS may offer guidance, but it is really up to the facility what systems they use.
This is good for the security industry, since facilities are free to choose any system that will meet the basic requirements, resulting in wider opportunities for manufacturers and integrators to bid and specify systems at these sites.
Now, after four years, CFATS is due expire in October, and there is much debate among legislators about how long the program should be renewed for, with some proposals asking for as little as three years and others asking for seven years.
For example, in May, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted in favor of a bill that would extend CFATS through 2018 and authorize $90 million in annual funding for the program. The Committee further adopted two amendments sponsored by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill). The first would extend CFATS until 2018 (from 2017) and the other would preclude DHS from requiring additional background checks on workers who possess a TWIC card.
On June 22, the full House and Homeland Security Committee approved another proposal, sponsored by Rep. Dan Lundgren (R-CA), to extend CFATS through 2018 with appropriations of $93 million per year. This bill would also establish a voluntary Chemical Security Training program and a voluntary Chemical Exercise program, along with providing funding for those provisions, but would move jurisdiction over CFATS from the House Appropriations Committee to the Homeland Security Committee.
Similar provisions exist in yet another proposal, sponsored by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), but that one would provide for only a three-year authorization of the current program. As of this writing, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee was still considering this proposal.
SIA’s Government Relations Department believes that reauthorization will certainly occur — it is just a matter of how many years it will be initially extended. SIA supports an extension and views a longer term as a good thing for the industry. As the CFATS program evolves over time, the next step likely will be more federal funding, which means more dollars for security purchases. The existing CFATS bill only provides administrative funding, but more regular appropriations are the logical next step should there be a multi-year extension.
This is an opinion that enjoys widespread cross-industry support. For example, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) recently submitted a written statement supporting the existing CFATS regulations and further suggesting that they are effective and should be made permanent. The association's statement was given to the House Committee on Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies.
SIA also supports the Obama administration’s view that the current CFATS regulations should be extended to include safe drinking water facilities and waste water treatment facilities, which were not subject to regulation under the initial CFATS program. That represents a risky gap in coverage, since those facilities contain chemicals such as chlorine that could be used in a terrorist attack.
CFATS is an important and beneficial program for the security industry, and no matter what happens in the legislative debate, it is certain to continue to provide funding for security purchases and greater opportunities for those that provide those solutions.
Karyn Hodgson is communications manager for the Security Industry Association (SIA).