Report: DHS won’t screen chemical plant workers for terror links

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has reportedly scrapped plans to screen workers at chemical facilities for links to terrorism as part of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) initiative, according to a story recently published by Government Executive.

Testifying before Congress last week, Suzanne Spaulding, deputy undersecretary for the DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate, confirmed that the plan - which would have required companies to submit personal information of employees with access to high-risk facilities to the agency to be screened against an FBI terror database - had been shelved.  According to the story, Spaulding didn’t say why the plan was dropped or if it would be replaced.  

Spaulding did, however, provide the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee with an update on the progress of CFATS. According to a written statement submitted to the subcommittee by Spaulding, the Infrastructure Security Compliance Division (ISCD) has received more than 41,000 "Top-Screens" (an initial consequence-based screening tool submitted by chemical facilities possessing a chemical of interest) submitted by chemical facilities to date.

As of July 20, 2012, Spaulding said in the statement that CFATS covers 4,425 facilities determined to be high-risk across the country, of which 3,662 are currently subject to final high-risk determinations and submission of a site security plan (SSP) or alternative security program (ASP).  She said that ISCD has completed its initial review of all Tier 1 SSPs and has begun to review Tier 2 SSPs.

Spaulding went on to say in the statement that the president’s budget for 2013 fiscal year could detrimentally impact the DHS’ ability to implement CFATS. She said the appropriations bill approved the subcommittee would cut the Infrastructure Security Compliance Program’s budget by more than half of what was enacted in 2012.

"An appropriation of $45.4 million would drastically curtail DHS’s ability to: 1) implement the statutory and regulatory requirements for the security of high-risk chemical facilities as specified in CFATS; 2) continue development of the proposed Ammonium Nitrate Security Program; and 3) fully implement the program improvements identified in the ISCD Action Plan," she wrote "DHS  estimates that, after expending approximately $35 million for salaries and benefits for 242 (full-time employees), approximately $12 million would remain for implementing CFATS and completing development  of the proposed Ammonium Nitrate Security Program.  DHS would be forced to cease virtually  all activities under CFATS other than those directly related to reviewing SSPs and performing  facility inspections—which means those other activities would be significantly delayed.  At the proposed $45.4 million funding level, the Department’s ability to conduct the most basic CFATS functions would be impacted."

Click here to read Spaulding’s entire written statement to the committee. 

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