Monday, August 22, 2011

Congressional Hearing Week of 8-22-11

Well, Congress is still out of Washington, though technically they are still in session, meeting twice a week in pro-forma meetings on Tuesday and Friday. Generally speaking this has just about eliminated Congressional Hearings until after they return to the City after Labor Day. There are a few exceptions to that rule and one is occurring this week in Houston, TX. The Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management of the House Homeland Security Committee will be holding a hearing on port security on Wednesday.

Chairman McCaul’s (R,TX) Subcommittee is tasked with ‘general oversight of homeland security programs’ so that probably provides enough leeway for him to look at “Preventing an Economic Shock Wave: Securing the Port of Houston from a Terrorist Attack” even though it probably would be a more appropriate topic for the Border and Maritime Security or the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittees. Of course, neither of those subcommittees is chaired by someone from Houston, TX.

There is no witness list available yet, but I would expect to see someone representing the Coast Guard’s local Captain of the Port as that office has primary responsibility for the enforcement of the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) in that area. It will be interesting to see if there is a representative of ISCD, perhaps the local Commander of Chemical Facility Security Inspectors, at the hearing because of the large number of high-risk chemical facilities in the area. Since this hearing is potentially politically charged, both agencies may buck-up representation to their Washington staffs.

The Port of Houston would be a great place to look at the interaction between the MTSA and CFATS programs. Perhaps Chairman McCaul could get DHS to explain the actual status of the memorandum of understanding between the Coast Guard and NPPD on how the two agencies would handle chemical security issues in port areas. Additionally, I would hope that the hearing would address the Coast Guard’s plan to require CFATS Top Screen submissions from MTSA covered chemical facilities.

This will also be a good chance to look at bipartisanship in Homeland Security. There are two other Representatives, both Democrats, which have responsibilities for parts of the Houston area, Gene Green and Sheila Jackson-Lee. Ms. Lee is a member of the Committee but not McCaul’s Subcommittee; I would not be surprised to see her at the dais. Green is on a competing committee (Energy and Commerce), but political decorum would probably dictate his being present as well.

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