DHS makes significant headway with CFATS security plan approvals

Use of alternative security plans credited with helping to clear backlog

During his opening comments, Coburn held up different security guidelines required by the U.S. Coast Guard, EPA and the TSA, all of which paled in comparison to the large binder of requirements for meeting CFATS standards.

“One of the reasons it is hard to fix is because we put all of this gobbledygook that has no attendant impact on what we’re doing,” added Coburn. “We’ve got to look at this program, we’ve got to fix it, it’s an important thing that we need to do and we need to solve the problems.”  

Suzanne Spaulding, undersecretary, national protection and programs directorate at DHS, said that just two years ago, the agency hadn’t approved a single site security plan or compliance inspection. However, she said the agency has since approved more than 760 site security plans, completed 31 compliance inspections and more 1,000 authorization inspections.

In addition, Spaulding said that 98 percent of Tier 1 facilities have an approved security plan, while 66 percent of Tier 2 and 39 percent of Tier 3 facilities have an approved plan.

“We are sustaining an average rate of more than 80 approvals each month, which would cut in half GAO’s estimate of how long it would take to clear the backlog of plan approvals,” Spaulding said during her testimony before the committee. “Approximately 75 percent of these facilities’ plans included measures recommended by the DHS or the facility as necessary upgrades in order to satisfy the applicable risk-based performance standards. This is significant progress.”

Gibson believes that in order for the DHS to continue clearing this backlog of facility inspections they’re going to have continue with what they’ve been doing and that means companies adopting the aforementioned alternative security plans. “Now that it’s starting to go faster, I don’t see any reason why that trend won’t continue,” she said.

Gibson also credited Congress with spurring the DHS into action on completing these site assessments by holding them accountable. “I think Congress has really held their feet to the fire and encouraged them to make some progress,” she said.

In the near future, Gibson said that Congress needs to pass a longer term authorization bill to fund CFATS to ensure that the progress that has been made over the past couple of years continues. When the government shutdown occurred last year, Gibson said that technically, the CFATS program didn’t exist during that time period and that many lawmakers now realize that something needs to be done to address the issue of funding for this program.

“That would be helpful because it would give a lot more certainty to the program and what they’re looking at now is an authorization of about three years, so at least that would tell both DHS and the industry that this program is going to be around for awhile and the efforts being made will be recognized,” she said.