Friday, July 27, 2012

CFATS Hearing Before Appropriations Committee

Yesterday’s scheduled hearing before the House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee on the problems at ISCD and CFATS was cut short by floor votes. There have been reports that it will resume sometime next week, but there is not yet anything about that on the Committee web site.

I completely missed the opening statement by Chairman Alderholt (R,AL)  and saw only the tail end of the statement by Ranking Member Price (D,NC). Unfortunately, the Appropriations Committee does not carry links to the webcast of this hearing nor copies of the opening statements. So I guess I’ll just have to give those comments the public recognition that the Committee thinks they deserve; I’ll ignore them.

GAO Report

As I promised in my earlier blog, the GAO provided the Committee with a report on the problems at ISCD. Actually, that isn’t true, at least in the publicly released version of the report. That report looks at how well ISCD is executing its action plan to correct the deficiencies that ISCD determined existed in the CFATS program execution. According to the GAO, ISCD appears to be executing the ISCD plan well.

An interesting statement is found at the bottom of page 10 of the report:

“Additional details on the human capital, mission, and administrative issues identified in the ISCD memorandum are considered ‘for official use only’.”

Hopefully that means that there is a non-public version of this report that addresses those sensitive, but important issues.

While I think there is a certain justification for keeping the details of the ‘issues identified’ by ISCD hidden from public view from a security perspective, I think that Congress, GAO and DHS have a responsibility to share more information with the public in general and the regulated industry in particular. The chemical industry has been spending millions of dollars on addressing issues related to CFATS at the direction of an apparently fundamentally flawed organization. Surely they deserve to know about the basic problems at that organization that may have caused them to waste significant amounts of that money.

The one thing that does come out in the public GAO report is that the problems that have been affecting the CFATS program are not just within the domain of ISCD. The report notes that the ISCD memo included concerns about “insufficient and inconsistent support by NPPD and IP with regard to human capital needs” (page 10). This problem is certainly removed enough from actual security implications that it can certainly be publicly discussed except that it falls within the much more tightly held classification of ‘politically sensitive’.

Deputy Under Secretary Spaulding

Deputy Under Secretary Spaulding is the NPPD official directly responsible for the Office of Infrastructure Protection which includes ISCD. She is certainly not responsible, however, for the problems leading up to the current fiasco since she just took that post last November. As we have come to expect, however, her prepared testimony does little to look at the actual problems involved with the CFATS, and continues in the tradition of optimistic, forward looking testimony by administration officials from two administrations.

She does report on the current status of the CFATS implementation (page 4):

“As of July 20, 2012, CFATS covers 4,425 high-risk facilities nationwide; of these 4,425 facilities, 3,662 are currently subject to final high-risk determinations and submission of an SSP or ASP. The remaining facilities are awaiting final tier determinations based on their SVA submissions. ISCD continues to issue final tier notifications to facilities across all four risk tiers as it makes additional final tier determinations.”

While she completely ignores the SSP approval process here, she does not later (page 5):

“ISCD is currently utilizing an interim SSP review process [emphasis added] to enable ISCD to move forward with SSP reviews in a consistent, reasonable, and timely fashion. At this time, ISCD has completed its initial review of all Tier 1 SSPs and has begun reviewing Tier 2 SSPs. As of July 16, 2012, of the Tier 1 SSPs reviewed, the Department has authorized or conditionally authorized SSPs for 63 facilities. Of the remaining Tier 1 SSPs reviewed by the Department, we are either validating results or reaching out to these facilities to obtain additional information or action in the hope of resolving the outstanding issues affecting their SSPs.”

If the number of ‘authorized or conditionally authorized’ SSPs seems to be rather small, we can take heart in Spaulding’s ‘pleased’ announcement that “as of July 16, 2012, ISCD has resumed authorization inspections at Tier 1 facilities” (page 6). Of course they still have no guidance on their Chemical Security web site for facilities about the interim process; that guidance was removed back in March.

She does take the Committee to task for their reduction in the funding for the CFATS program in the House passed DHS appropriations bill:

“DHS estimates that, after expending approximately $35 million for salaries and benefits for 242 FTEs, 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. These include maintaining the CSAT and the Chemical-Security Management System information technology systems, and acquiring important technical and subject matter support. Additionally, CFATS-related outreach and engagement with the regulated community would be significantly reduced and some aspects would cease; development and implementation of the proposed Ammonium Nitrate Security Program would be significantly delayed; and many of the managerial improvements outlined in the ISCD Action Plan may be delayed or negatively impacted.”

I can understand how the budget cuts can a real management problem, but ‘significantly delay’ the development and implementation of the Ammonium Nitrate Security Program? How can it be ‘delayed’ more than missing its four year congressionally mandated deadline?

Next Week

It will be interesting to see what happens in the questioning before the Committee next week, if that hearing is actually held. It will certainly not be a friendly hearing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of the interesting questions asked at the beginning from Mr. Price stated that he wanted to understand how so much money was spent on the Personal Surety program and then OMB can deny it. What step was missed in that process?

As a side note Mr. Price also stated that he believed the budget cut recommended by this committee would be detrimental to this program.

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