This week there are three hearings scheduled that might be of interest to the chemical security community. As might be expected, two will be budget hearings and the other is the first hearing in the Senate about the fate of the CFATS program. DHS Budget The Homeland Security subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee will be holding two hearings on March 4th looking at different aspects of the President’s DHS budget request. In the morning they will be looking at the DHS intelligence efforts and the effectiveness of the fusion centers. In the afternoon they will be looking at the TSA budget. The fusion center hearing will probably focus on the DHS oversight of these State and locally run institutions. The funding of DHS representatives on these panels will be used as a surrogate for the discussion of how well these centers perform their intelligence analysis and sharing function while still protecting civil liberties. The importance of these centers for the chemical security community comes from their importance in the analysis of local intelligence that might allow for the early detection of potential terrorist threats to the chemical industry. The TSA budget will affect the staffing levels for TSA inspectors for both the Freight Rail Security program and the screening for air freight. Both of these programs will have an important impact on different portions of the chemical security community. Chemical facilities that ship and/or receive select hazardous materials by rail will be concerned about the continued implementation of the rail security program, especially in the continued development of how it will interface with the CFATS program. Facilities that ship chemicals via commercial airlines will be interested in the continued expansion of the air cargo screening program. CFATS The hearing that everyone in the community has been waiting for since the House passed HR 2868 last fall will finally occur this week. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Operations Committee will hold their first hearing examining the current state of the CFATS program. The hearing will be held on Wednesday morning and will be entitled “Chemical Security: Assessing Progress and Charting a Path Forward”. As has been typical for these hearings in the House, the Senate Committee will hear testimony from two panels. The first panel will be government witnesses, two from DHS;Rand Beers, Under Secretary, National Protection and Programs Directorate, and Sue Armstrong, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection; and one from EPA; Peter Silva, Assistant Administrator for Water. Their testimony will almost certainly follow the same type information that they presented last summer to both the House Homeland Security and Energy and Commerce Committees. The questions asked by the committee of these witnesses will give us our first good look at how the various members look at the CFATS program. Questions about the delays in the inspection program for CFATS will be used by Sen. Collins (R, ME) and her supporters to justify the extension of the current CFATS program called for in S 2996. Sen. Lieberman (I, DE) and his supporters will concentrate on how CFATS can be extended to water treatment facilities, a major part of the HR 2868 agenda. One question will certainly be asked of this panel; why has the Administration asked for another one year extension of the CFATS program in their DHS budget request. Rand Beers is likely to be called on his testimony last summer that the Administration would not ask for an extension in the FY 2011 budget. Last year the Republicans used a similar extension request as a major point in their argument favoring a straight CFATS extension over HR 2868. It will be interesting to see how far the ‘bi-partisan’ support for S 2996 extends in the Committee. We still haven’t seen if the Committee will take up S 2996 or HR 2868 when they actually start their legislative work on the CFATS issue. If there is enough support for Sen. Collin’s bill from the Democrats on the Committee, then the initial work in the Senate will be focused on that bill. The second panel for this hearing will be composed of representatives of various portions of the chemical community. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) will both have industry members representing them. The voice of chemical workers will be represented by the UAW. All three organizations have testified before House committees and their positions are all well established. The questions for this panel will likely center on IST and worker rights issues. Both manufacturing representatives are against giving the government the ability to mandate implementation of inherently safer technology programs at chemical manufacturing facilities. They do take slightly different tacks with how the voice that opposition, but neither wants to see the current IST provisions in HR 2868 take place. The labor unions have aligned themselves with the environmental activists in calling for an expansive IST requirement.
Neither IST nor workers rights are addressed in Sen. Collin’s legislation. So these questions will provide some indications on how this Committee might proceed with the CFATS issue. Since industry has not been adamant in their opposition to the whistleblower, worker participation or background-check redress procedures included in HR 2868, the addition of these provisions to S 2996 may make her legislation more palatable to some of the moderate Democrats on the panel.