Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Next Administration’s Chemical Security Plan

There is an interesting interview on the Homeland Security Today web site with PJ Crowley from the Center for American Progress, a self-described liberal think-tank. The main point of the interview was to take a look at what type of changes we might expect to see in DHS if the Democrats won the presidential election this year. While neither Clinton nor Obama will necessarily follow all of the recommendations of the Center for American Progress, Crowley’s thoughts can indicate the general direction that either administration would take.


There was actually very little mentioned about chemical facility security in the interview. That is not the case with the recent report prepared by Crowley that inspired the interview. The report, Safe at Home, makes a detailed set of proposals about the future course of homeland security in general and the chemical security program, among others, in detail.


The general tone of the report is that, while some progress has been made, the Bush administration has seriously shortchanged the homeland defense program. The report outlines a fairly aggressive program that would be funded by reducing the operational tempo in Iraq.


Two of the six priorities listed in their program to reduce the general vulnerability of the United States to terrorist attack deal with the chemical industry (page 4):


·        “Establish critical infrastructure priorities to guide policy and funding decisions

·        “Enact comprehensive chemical security regulation and strengthen government oversight”


Critical Infrastructure Priorities


The report makes the point that the current 17 critical infrastructure sectors all have an equal standing in their importance in the homeland security program. This means that none of them are getting the attention that they really deserve. The report proposes that that be changed, updating the sectors, grouping them into three categories and establishing priorities within each category. Those categories are (page 45):


·        Catastrophic Impact

·        Continuity of Society and Economy

·        Continuity of Government and Emergency Response


Within the Catastrophic Impact category we find chemical facilities (including water treatment facilities and freight rail) with the highest priority. This ranking is based on the possibility for the highest possible damage inflicted by a successful terrorist attack.


Along with sector prioritization, the report also calls for increased emphasis on security for SCADA systems (page 46), an emphasis that crosses both categories and sectors. While admitting that innovation in this area is most likely to arise fromthe private sector, the report notes that an increased government attention to the issue will help to drive that innovation.


Comprehensive Chemical Security Regulation


The report notes that the current CFATS regulations will expire in 2009. Congress will need to pass new legislation to carry chemical security regulation past that point. Crowley makes the point that the current rules, by congressional mandate, do not include large portions of the chemical industry. He suggests that comprehensive regulations should include rail and road transportation of hazardous chemicals as well as all major users and holders of those chemicals to include ports and water treatment facilities (page 47).


Government regulation requires enforcement. The report points out that DHS currently has less than 100 people working on enforcing chemical security regulations (page 48). It notes that this number needs to be greatly increased to be effective. It also suggests that the regulations should provide for third-party security auditors to aid the Department in looking at chemical facility security. These auditors will require specific training and supervision if they are to be effective.


The third leg of chemical security regulation would be an increased emphasis on inherently safer technology (IST) (page 48). The report suggests that all water treatment and wastewater treatment facilities replace chlorine gas disinfection with treatment with bleach or ultraviolet radiation. This could be encouraged by a combination of grants, loans and tax incentives.


Congressional Action


While the report notes that changes at DHS should be made by the new administration, it should be noted that many of the chemical security changes suggested in this report are contained in the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2008 already being considered by Congress. It is very possible that the main points of this report, at least in the chemical sector, will already be made by the time the next administration is elected in November. The three remaining candidates need to weigh in on these issues now if they expect to have significant input into how their administration would deal with chemical security issues.

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