Sunday, September 9, 2007

DHS adds Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page to website

During an earlier blog I mentioned that DHS had made some changes to two CSAT web pages. There was a second change made to the Chemical Security Assessment Tool web page that I missed in that blog; DHS added a hyperlink to a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page. 

The new Chemical Security Assessment Tool Frequently Asked Questions page is one of the longest (105 pages in an MS Word document in 10 pt type) and most comprehensive FAQ pages that I have ever dealt with. To make navigation of this page easier DHS has included an integral search feature at the top of the page and a list of categories of questions through which the user can browse. The only major defect that I have found on the page is the lack of a “last modified” date on the page. This will make it nearly impossible to determine if/when DHS makes changes to the page. This could be easily corrected by adding such a date when they do make a change.


I have briefly reviewed each of the answers provided and could only find 3 items that caught my attention; questions 55, 800, and 803. Question 55 deals with user fees; the answer states that DHS is considering the use of user fees; “including filing fees, fees for inspections and audits, and fees for screening of individuals against the Terrorist Screening Database”. Question 800 addresses tier levels; the answer refers to tiers 5 and 6 being assigned to facilities that did not meet the requirements of a High-Risk facility. Question 803 deals with notifications to complete SVA’s; the answer mentions that in September 2007 the initial notifications will be going out tofacilities that need to complete SVA’s.


User Fees


DHS might include such user fees in future rule making. To many members of the regulated community, user fees add insult to injury; it being bad enough that a facility is required to accept the ‘assistance’ of a government agency but they would also have to pay for that assistance. On the other hand, this is just about the only way that the government has to insure that the people who most obviously derive benefit from a regulation pay for it. In this case the assumption would be that the facility owners and their customers derive the most direct benefit from preventing terrorist attacks on the facility. Legitimate arguments could be made on either side of this assumption. As long as the fees are not too high, they may be politically necessary.


Tiers 5 and 6


Everything that I have read to date in the regulation and supporting documentation refers to four tiers with Tier 1 being the highest risk facilities in the group of High Risk Facilities and Tier 4 being the lowest that still meets the High Risk standard. Adding tiers 5 and 6 could allow DHS to extend the regulation of chemical facilities to lower risk groups if and when Congress changes their mandate. This would help to reduce the number of facilities that had to re-screen if Congress did allow DHS over site of less than High Risk facilities. This would also allow DHS to better categorize facilities that were required to complete the Top Screen, but did not meet the requirements for High Risk facilities.


SVA Notifications


I have been wondering if DHS would tell us anything more about the progress of the CFATS implementation. This is the first indication that I have seen of any movement beyond the Top Screen Process. It will be interesting to see if DHS provides information on their web site about the SVA procedure or just rely on the notification process to let only the people concerned learn more about the SVA process. I am hoping that they will publish the SVA questions and instructions much the same way that they dealt with the Top Screen. DHS has made it clear that they do not intend to share the details of how they evaluate the Top Screen or SVA data to determine the final risk tier assignment. Their argument that that information could provide terrorists a way to evaluate potential targets does not sit well with many people. Providing more details about how the information is to be collected may help to alleviate some concerns that these opponents have. DHS needs to provide as much information as possible, consistent with protecting facilities and their neighbors from the affects of a successful attack.


As I said earlier, this is one of the most extensive FAQ sections that I have seen and I particularly like the search provisions. A few of the answers provided are less than helpful, but that is to be expected in such a comprehensive list of answers. Hopefully, DHS will continue to upgrade its site in general and the FAQ section in particular.

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