Wednesday, February 24, 2010

DHS Budget Hearing 2-24-10

I missed a chance to watch the first two budget hearings ‘live’ on the web yesterday and today because of other commitments. This evening was the first chance that I had to watch either of the two Senate hearings (Homeland Security yesterday and Appropriations today). I flipped a coin and watched the webcast of Sen. Byrd’s (D, WV) Homeland Security Subcommittee questioning Secretary Napolitano. While many of the questions were pointed or demanding, it was generally a friendly exchange. As I expected with the Secretary as the sole witness, there was very little mention of CFATS specifically or chemical security issues in general. While I half expected (hoped) someone would ask about the one year CFATS authorization extension; that question was never asked. The only chemical security related question came in the second round of questions asked by Sen. Byrd. Safety vs Security Byrd mentioned the recent fatal chemical accident at the Dow facility in Belle, WV where first responders (an ambulance crew) were not able to get any information about the accident (chemicals involved, extent of the leak, chemical protection requirements) until they had actually arrived at the scene. He noted that it reminded him of last years hearing when he described another chemical incident in West Virginia and he had asked Secretary Napolitano then what DHS was doing to make operations at high-risk chemical facilities safer. He asked the same question today. This year the Secretary was able to reply that the CFATS implementation was rolling along and would take care of the security issues. It wouldn’t have been a politically sound move for her to tell the SENIOR Senator that DHS is not really a safety organization it is a security organization, that the Senator’s particular question should be addressed to OSHA or EPA. Actually, to be fair to Sen. Byrd, there are some questions asked in the SSP questionnaire that kind of obliquely address the issue of communications with first responders. In a blog from last spring I noted that there were a number of questions dealing with first responder capabilities that could only be addressed by talking with the appropriate emergency response agencies. But, this is all the closer CFATS gets to requiring high-risk chemical facilities to provide information to those response agencies. Of course, Chairman Byrd’s hammer is control of the budget pathway for DHS. This tends to make many things look like security issues; when the only tool you have is a hammer many things begin to look like a nail. Too bad he doesn’t have the EPA Administrator or the Labor Department Secretary to call to task for the situation; but they are covered by other sub-committees.

Hopefully I will get to the Homeland Security hearing webcast tomorrow morning. There is probably a better chance for getting a CFATS question or two there.

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