Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Grassley and CFATS

Last Friday I asked why CBS News was quoting Sen. Grassley (R,IA) about the problems at ISCD. Today a press release on the Senator’s web site may have answered the question; it looks like former DHS Assistant Secretary Keil may have come to Grassley when it was clear that none of the oversight Committees were going to take a serious look at the ISCD problems.

Last week Grassley sent a letter to Secretary Napolitano. The letter asks the first set of detailed questions about specific problems in ISCD. Unfortunately, the questions that he asks are about relatively minor problems in the administration of the CFATS program and don’t get to the basis of the real problems at ISCD.

Locality Pay

I’m relatively sure that the Keil, or someone like him, is the unnamed whistle blower in the letter. Only a late comer to the program, with little actual knowledge of the operation of ISCD, would raise the issue of locality pay as a means to insinuate that the chemical facility security inspectors were trying to cheat the government. Field offices were set up, but it was clear that inspectors would be spending little time in them so there was initially no requirement that the inspectors move to the city where their office was located.

Due to a misunderstanding of the rules by ISCD management, inspectors were given locality pay based upon the location of their office instead of their home. According to multiple sources the Department’s recoupment of those improper payments was one of the reasons that the inspector corps sought union representation.

This was a management issue, but it doesn’t appear that it was due to any special malfeasance. In retrospect it seems clear that the management team was inadequately trained on the rules under which their employees would be operating. That couldn’t be because the people were being pulled into NPPD from all over the Department. Or spending so much time putting a new program together in a short time period with little guidance from Congress that they didn’t have time to learn the admin rules.


Grassley asks a series of questions pointing out the gross waste of taxpayer funds spent on HAZMAT suits for the CFATS inspection force. To a chemical professional like myself it is pretty clear that CFATS inspectors would probably never have any use for such equipment. Unfortunately, no one assigned to the ISCD management team had any experience with chemical manufacturing facilities.

Now anyone that has watched anything about chemical plants on TV knows that HAZMAT suits are an integral part of protecting employees at such plants; hazardous chemicals leaking at such facilities being such a common occurrence. Who would expect a government agency to provide any less protection of their employees? Okay, it was stupid, but their hearts were in the right place.

What Questions Should Have Been Asked

Because Grassley is totally unfamiliar with the CFATS program he has to rely on a whistleblower who knows even less about the program. Someone who actually knew something about the program would have asked a completely different set of problems.

Why hasn’t anyone in industry been able to submit an acceptable site security plan (SSP)? There isn’t any clear, unambiguous guidance from ISCD about what constitutes an adequate SSP.

Why hasn’t ISCD been able to tell facilities what is needed to correct their inadequate plans? Because Congress specifically prohibited them from providing such guidance.

Why hasn’t ISCD redone the questions and instructions for the on-line SSP submission tool? Because they don’t understand why the chemical community doesn’t provide the ‘necessary information’.

Has anyone independently verified that the reasons for declining the approval of any chemical facility SSP are in accordance with currently accepted security practices? Probably not.

Is there anyone in ISCD who is trained to review control system security procedures? Not hardly.

Is there anyone in ISCD with experience in emergency response planning? Probably not.

Why hasn’t ISCD gotten an approved TSDB vetting program set up yet? I don’t have any idea.

Grandstanding Senator

Oh well, we couldn’t get anyone with a background in CFATS to be concerned about the problems in the program, so I guess we’ll just have to deal with Sen. Grassley. Unfortunately, he’s getting his information from someone with an apparent ax to grind with Under Secretary Beers and Deputy Assistant Secretary Armstrong rather than from someone who actually has dealt with the CFATS program.

This is why this should be handled by the two Homeland Security Committees. They have staffs that are at least conversant with the CFATS program. Their staffs could ask the pertinent questions of the people involved in the program and learn that while the whistleblower may have some pieces of information, that those minor problems have nothing to do with the real problems being experienced by this important program.
We need much more than silly questions by a grandstanding Senator. Grandstanding? I bet he doesn’t make public the reply he has requested from the Secretary. It would make him look silly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Senator Grassley has uncovered yet another egregious abuse of authority in the DHS Office of Infrastructure Protection, a deeply flawed and unethical organization at the top. Congress is already familiar with a very damning internal DHS report on CFATS that exposed rampant cronyism in OIP, coupled with illegal abuse of the Civil Service Merit System. That allowed a person who had been officially determined by an SES selection board as unqualified to head CFATS to be moved improperly into the Director position. The political assistant secretary illegally removed his career deputy from office just before the 2008 election, enabling him to move his unqualified crony into the CFATS Director position, where she proceeded to practice more of the cronyism that got her there and to waste hundreds of millions of dollars, all while falsely reporting compliance with the law. She was then promoted to deputy assistant secretary, in a "fox in the henhouse" oversight role for CFATS, and has never been held accountable for her widespread failures and illegal actions. A Congressional investigation should also be conducted into allegations that contract dollars were illegally steered to her former boss after he left office following the 2008 election.

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