This week saw Congress take a serious step forward in helping to assure that chemical facilities across the country would be protected against a terrorist attack by passing HR 4007, the first comprehensive chemical security bill passed by Congress. As much as Democrats and Republicans have disagreed in the past about how to accomplish chemical security the votes this week were without significant debate.
To be sure there was considerable work done behind the scenes by the staffs of both the House Homeland Security Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee working out compromises that both sides could live with. Even so there were some last minute changes made to the bill that ease the concerns that a few unidentified Senators had. Without those changes the bill never would have come up for a vote in the Senate and we would still have to continue limping along on an appropriations bill to appropriations bill basis for the CFATS program.
We are going to have to have at least one more extension (maybe two) of the current §550 authorization of the program to allow the new program authorized by the new ‘Protecting and Securing Chemical Facilities from Terrorist Attacks Act of 2014’ once it is signed by the President (probably next week). The new legislation will not erase, or necessarily make serious changes to the current CFATS regulations under 6 CFR Part 27. Rather it will codify (under 6 USC Title XXI) most of the existing program and provide a four year authorization of the program.
In many ways the hard part is just starting. The folks at the Infrastructure Security Compliance Division (ISCD), in addition to having to continue to enforce the current regulations, will have to develop a number of new processes and guidance documents and to craft some changes to the current regulations to implement what Congress has now directed. Some of this will have to go through the normal, time consuming regulatory revision process, but significant changes have been specifically exempted from that process in the legislation so that they can be implemented in an expeditious manner. It will be interesting to see how that works out.
Over the next couple of days, I will be looking at what is included in the final legislation and how DHS might go about implementing the changes. The clock does not start on any of these changes until the President signs the bill into law, but I’m pretty sure that ISCD has already informally started work on putting a plan together to implement the new requirements.