Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Congressional Oversight of CFATS

I recently had an interesting email from a long time reader closely associated with the CFATS program. The email had a number of interesting points to make about the current problems ISCD is having with the implementation of site security plan portion of the CFATS program. Among those points was the expression of hope that Congressional oversight hearings would go beyond the ‘usual suspects’ and include sworn testimony from members, current and past, of the ISCD staff and chemical facility security inspectors.

I certainly agree that if Congress (the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee in particular) really wants to get to the bottom of the problems that DHS is having with the effective conclusion of the CFATS program implementation these are the sorts of people that will have to be included in the investigation. I just don’t think that it will happen.

First off the type of whistleblower testimony that would provide the best insight into the program is political and professional suicide. Congress has only provided the standard-generic, ineffective whistleblower protections to anyone associated with the program. While direct retaliation is currently forbidden, the only enforcement provision is the filing of civil suits against the offending agency; a long, expensive and usually fruitless endeavor only designed to enrich lawyers.

Second Congress has a mixed record of oversight of executive branch program execution at best. Typical oversight hearings have senior program managers who have little to do with the hands-on implementation enduring political speeches billed as questions and providing answers that no one really listens to. The only time there is a detailed, probing questioning of witnesses is when the political opponents of a program have found evidence of political or personal malfeasance. There are no political opponents of the CFATS program.

Next there is no Congressional Committee that has oversight responsibility for the CFATS program. Currently authorized as an add-on to a funding bill, the only Committees that have ‘effective control’ over the program are the two appropriations committees and that control is limited to expanding the authorization for another fiscal year; the funding for the program is not even mentioned in the budget or spending bills.

Congressional ‘oversight hearings’ have focused on the political questions of IST not the actual operation of the program. Congress needs to realize that they are responsible for resolving political questions not program managers. Congressional oversight is supposed to focus on ensuring that the administration of programs authorized by Congress are actually fulfilling the intent of that authorization in an effective and economical manner.

That is a major part of the problem that the CFATS program is facing, Congress shares a major portion of the blame for those program failures.  The inability to reach a political compromise that would allow for an effective description of the program’s responsibilities and goals has hobbled the Departments implementation efforts. Continued inaction by Congress will only continue to impede CFATS implementation progress.

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