Tuesday, September 23, 2008

House Appropriations for DHS – Additional Information

I finally got a chance to do a detailed review of House Report 110-862, the Appropriations Committee Report on HR 6947. This report provides a little more data on the actual funding amounts going into the DHS Appropriations Bill. It also provides some of the justification for the differences between the amount appropriated and the amount the Administration requested.


There are three areas in the report that I think might be of interest to the chemical facility security community. They deal with staffing at the NPPD, funding for CFATS implementation and this year’s new ‘twist’, ethanol transloading facilities.


Staffing Levels for NPPD


The National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) includes, among other divisions, the Infrastructure Security Compliance division, which implements the Department’s chemical facility anti-terrorism standards. The Committee was less than impressed with the ability of the NPPD to fill positions over the last year or two. It reduced by half (page 96) the amount of money ($2.5M vs $5M) allocated for Management and Administration staffing growth.


It appears that this is a headquarters staffing issue, not enforcement. However, anyone that has ever worked at any government job knows that the necessary work at HQ gets done. If bodies have to be pulled up from the line to get it done, so be it. The headcount stays where it ‘belongs’ but the bodies go where they are needed.


CFATS and Ammonium Nitrate


The Appropriations Committed notes that “the number of locations subject to chemical facility regulations is higher than estimated in original DHS plans”. As a result the Committee has increased the money appropriated (page 97) for CFATS implementation by $12M. The Committee also noted that the Ammonium Nitrate program included in last years ‘Omnibus Spending Bill’ was put their too late for DHS to take that program into account in their 2009 budget request. The Committee is adding $5M for the first year of that program.


The increase for CFATS implementation will probably be used for funding additional inspector positions and perhaps some additional field offices. Since we have yet to see the proposed rule for the ammonium nitrate regulations (which was due in June) it is hard to tell if the $5M for that program is adequate.


Ethanol Transloading Facilities


The ‘new twist’ for this year’s legislation is the inclusion of a section (page 98) on vulnerability assessments for ethanol transloading facilities. The Committee gives DHS 90 days to report back to the Appropriations Committee on a vulnerability assessment that DHS is conducting for one such facility (unidentified in the report) in Virginia.


While no regulatory requirements are included in this ‘new twist’ it does signal that at least some influential people in Congress are interested in the security at a new class of chemical facilities. This may indicate that these facilities will be the next to be added to the CFATS umbrella, either by Congressional direction or by Secretarial rule making in the new administration.


There is currently little or no pipeline capability for ethanol distribution either as denatured (contaminated with gasoline to avoid diversion to human consumption) ethanol or various gasoline/alcohol blends (E10 to E85). This means that most long distance distribution is by rail. Much of this rail distribution ends at small transloading facilities where the ethanol is transferred to trucks for distribution to ‘local’ fuel blending facilities.


Many of these transloading facilities are little more than a rail siding in a small town with a pump shack and a hard-pan parking pad for the trucks. In many cases the facilities are not even fenced. Security consists of locks on valves to prevent thefts with little or no concern for potential terrorist attacks.


It will be interesting to see what the DHS vulnerability study comes up with. The CFATS regulations do not address ethanol (it is not explosive enough for a release-flammable COI) or its gasoline blends. In fact it is not clear that the ethanol content in a gasohol blend even has to be counted in the fuel reports on Top Screens, since it is not gasoline, diesel, kerosene or jet fuel.


I doubt that these would be much of an al Qaeda target, but homegrown terrorists of various ilk may find them a very tempting target. It produces a fire that is difficult to fight without the appropriate foam; water/ethanol mixtures actually burn. The flames are difficult to see and that makes the fire more difficult to contain. And besides, it is taking food out of the mouths of starving poor people the world over.


Legislative Prospects


There is still no more word about the prospects of this passing this week or if Reid and Pelosi will change their minds about calling Congress back after the election. The big news this week is with the financial market bailout. That may force the Democratic leadership to bring Congress back for a lame duck session.

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