Friday, December 30, 2011

Another Look at ISCD Problems – Who Misled Who?

There is an interesting piece over at about the recent news that there are problems at ISCD. Since the author, Glenn Hess, has not seen the actual DHS report that started this discussion (nor apparently has anyone outside of Fox News and NPPD) the news focuses on the response of Sen. Collins (R,ME) and Bill Almond, a VP at SOCMA; both of whom have been vocal supporters of the current CFATS structure.

Congressional Oversight

Not surprisingly Sen. Collins is upset that DHS “mislead Congress about the effectiveness” of the CFATS program. Now I don’t know what information DHS provided to Congress in private, but I have watched most of the public testimony before the three respective committees looking at CFATS and any member of Congress that was misled by Under Secretary Beers’ testimony just wasn’t paying much attention.

For almost the last two years now Beers has dutifully reported the painfully slow progress in proceeding with the completion of the site security plan review and approval process. Rather than questioning him in detail about the problems at ISCD almost all of the Congresscritters involved in multiple hearings have focused their questions on the IST debate. Political critters from both sides of the aisle have patiently and persistently tried to get him to make one statement or another in support of their pet stance on that issue. IST, pro and con, has been the focus of Congressional oversight, not the performance of ISCD and progress of CFATS implementation.

For instance, the article quotes Collins as saying that the report “contradict the official testimony of department officials”. She was referring to the March 2010 hearing where Beers told the Committee that ISCD had started the pre-approval inspection process. What no one on the Committee considered asking was why DHS found it necessary to add a ‘pre-approval’ inspection process that was never explicated in the original regulations. The answer to that question (that had been provided to industry in multiple forums) would have nearly completely explained the continued slow pace of site security plan approvals today.

If one were to look back at the first couple of rounds of CFATS hearings that Beers testified at he always had Director Sue Armstrong at his side. As one would expect from one in Beer’s position as Under Secretary for National Protection & Programs Directorate he would answer the questions dealing with overall policy and the grand sweep of the program. When questions were asked about the details of the operation of the program he would let Armstrong provide the answers.

Lately however, he has been a solo act. His role as explicator of the grand strategy has not changed. But the usefulness of his testimony without the active support of a knowledgeable ISCD Director at his side has been limited. Fortunately for him (in the short run), Congress did not notice because they were more interested in political theater instead of overseeing the chemical security program that they handicapped in the first place.

Lack of Leadership

The Chemical Engineering News article notes a couple of interesting points by Bill Almond. He noted that the arrival of the Obama Administration initiated a lot of management turnover in NPPD in general and ISCD in particular. While this type problem affected large portions of the Executive Branch it was particularly devastating at a small, underfunded and understaffed agency like ISCD that was trying to put together a completely new and innovative regulatory program.

I am surprised that Bill did not take his argument one-step further. One of the reasons that DHS had problems finding qualified people to take the slots that kept coming open was that Congress could not find a way to reach a consensus on how to make this critical security program a permanent part of DHS. Imagine how hard it must have been to attract up and coming managers to a program that could die at the end of the fiscal year just because of Congressional inaction. This is yet another reason SOCMA and other industry organizations could use to support their demand for a long-term authorization of the current CFAT program.

Added to that, there was the continued in-fighting within the Administration about how important sub-programs (like the CFATS personnel surety program, the ammonium nitrate security program, and the MTSA harmonization program) would be implemented. Drafts of the ammonium nitrate security program rule were circulated within the Administration for almost three years before the NPRM was introduced this fall.

It was little wonder that there was a lack of effective leadership at ISCD to handle the inevitable problems that would arise with implementing an new regulatory program.

Moving Forward

As a true-believer I am saddened to see the problems that ISCD has been having with the completion of the implementation of the CFATS program. It is somewhat encouraging to hear that they have looked at the problems and come up with an extensive program to correct their shortcomings. I would be more encourage, perhaps, if there were a more public discussion of the details in the report.

I suspect that the appropriate place for that discussion will be before the three congressional committees that have been ‘exercising’ such poor oversight of the program in the first place. That doesn’t provide me with much hope however. This coming year (just a couple of days away now) is an election year and that will encourage more political theater, not less.

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