Friday, August 9, 2013

More on Working Group Meeting

I am hearing a little bit more about yesterday’s Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group meeting. This was essentially an organizational meeting so it mostly dealt with organizing the Working Group. Sub-groups were organized to deal with specific tasks with each of the big three agencies (DHS-OIP, OSHA and EPA) being responsible for their own sub-group.

Interagency Cooperation

The Effective Chemical Risk Management Project, Federal Region 2 (ECRM2) that I briefly described earlier as a project seeming meeting the President’s objective to get an agency cooperation field pilot project underway within 45 days is being left for now to run its course. The National Response Team (NRT) will continue to run this pilot projects. This seems to be a good idea since the NRT is itself one of those examples of interdepartmental agencies that seems to work decently well. It would be nice to see something on the NRT web site about this NY/NJ pilot, especially if it looks like something that might expand to other areas of the country.

Where’s the Money?

One of the problems that any activity like this governed by an executive order rather than congressional authorization is that the President doesn’t have the authority to appropriate money for new projects; that is solely a congressional prerogative. Secretaries and Administrators can move some money around in their budgets, but only limited amounts. And to do that they have to rob from Peter to pay Paul, especially in these tight fiscal times.

Given the general level of approbation that the EO received from both sides of the aisle in both houses of Congress, it would sure be nice if there were a small supplemental authorization provided to further the aims of the Working Group (okay, maybe a little pie-in-the-sky, but it would be a good bipartisan move) especially to help fund things like the ECRM2 pilot project.

Where’s Congress?

No this is an Executive Branch program and the President is having more than a little problem with support in Congress (or lack thereof), but I would to suggest an interesting furtherance of this cooperative Working Group. How about inviting senior staff members from the affected committees in both the House and Senate to participate in the appropriate subgroups discussions? This might make it easier to get legislative support down the road.

Where’s Industry?

There is one very important group that is not clearly represented on the Working Group, the regulated industries. Without their support any initiatives here are sure to fail. There is a series of organizations working under the Executive Branch umbrella, the Sector Specific Agencies. Three of those agencies representing probably the most affected sectors (Chemical Sector, Commercial Facilities Sector and Critical Manufacturing Sector) are supported by the DHS Sector-Specific Agency Executive Management Office. These should be brought into many of the discussions early on.

Don’t Expect Too Much

Let’s not expect too much out of this effort. These problems have been a long time building and some of them are entrenched in law and authorizations. For example it would be really nice to expand the RMP program to cover reactive chemicals (of which ammonium nitrate is a relatively minor example) Unless the 30 or so people working as inspectors for that program are drastically expanded, however, there will be little government enforcement capability or even outreach capability to make that coverage effective.

BTW: The CFATS people are authorized 160 Chemical Security Inspectors (much fewer than that actually on hand) and they are only responsible for about a quarter of the facilities covered under RMP. Of course CFATS requires DHE approvals and inspections, whereas the RMP program only requires the risk management plan to be available to inspectors when they ask for it.

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