Saturday, February 4, 2012

ISCD Problem Hearing

I didn’t get a chance to watch the ISCD hearing before the Subcommittee on the Environment and the Economy either live or in real time yesterday which could have been a shame because the House Energy and Commerce Committee web site does not provide a link to the archived video (at least as of 5:30 a.m. EDT this morning). Fortunately the Minority Web site does carry a link to the video so I could see the whole disappointing mess.

We Still Don’t Know

First off, neither we the public (who are paying the bills) nor industry (who is bearing the brunt of the regulation) know much about the extent of the problems at ISCD. We do know (as I pointed out yesterday) about the poor performance of ISCD as it pertains to the completion of the reviews and authorizations of site security programs under CFATS. We don’t know why the delays have taken place and we only have vague assurances that the problems are being addressed.

Thanks to the Committee Staff memo I mentioned earlier this week, we have a listing of the five ‘programmatic challenges’ and four of the nine ‘personnel challenges’ identified in the internal ISCD report on the problem; a report that was produced within weeks of Director Anderson and Deputy Director Wulf being appointed to their positions in ISCD. Unfortunately there has been no explanation of why the Staff memo could not even list the five other personnel challenges.

To be fair there was some brief and usually vague discussion in the hearing about some of these issues. For example a number of Committee members jumped on wording in the report about inadequate controls for ordering and tracking supplies, particularly language that indicated that these lack of controls provided an environment that made fraud, waste and theft a possibility. Interestingly Under Secretary Beers made clear that an earlier NPPD report on ISCD had identified this issue and Anderson and Wulf were identifying that problem from that report. Again, we have been vaguely assured that the appropriate controls are now in place.

Poor Format for Investigation

The format for Congressional hearings is really not suited to a discovery or investigational process. Each member is allowed to make a five minute speech about their political view of the problems (including in this case two Committee Chairmen Emeritus and the Ranking Member of the Full Committee). Then there is a single round of questions limited to 5 minutes for the question and witness response from each Committee Member and hanger on.

Since most members spend much of their questioning making political speeches justifying the particular question there is little time for a real response from the witness. Yesterday, for example Rep. Capps (D,CA) stopped Beers’ response to two different questions before he could say anything so she could ask her next question. She didn’t get any information, just a couple of sound bites for local news stations back home; getting re-elected is more important than getting answers.

When Congress does conduct a real oversight hearing and asks the hard questions, the adversarial questions, it is because of investigational work by Committee Staff. It is apparent that that work was not done before yesterday’s hearing. Part of the reason is that the Staff did not get a copy of the ISCD internal report until just last week. That just doesn’t make sense; the existence of the report was made public back before Christmas. The Committee with oversight responsibility (and I still can’t believe that an environmental committee has the temerity to claim, or worse yet be allowed to claim, oversight of a purely security issue like CFATS) should have been publicly screaming for a copy of this report the day after it was identified in the Fox News story. Of course, neither Homeland Security Committee has publicly said much about the lack of information being provided to them either.

Just as obviously, the Staff had never heard about the five other reports that Beers referred to in his testimony. These were reports about NPPD reviews of the CFATS programs. It would certainly be interesting to know if those reports had even remotely identified any of the problems pointed out in the Anderson-Wulf report. It would seem to me that that would be an important oversight question to ask. If they didn’t was someone hiding actively hiding information from NPPD or were the reviews just ineffective exercises conducted by less than competent managers? If they did identify precursors to the problems then why were they allowed to get larger?


There were only three real issues that were discussed in any depth (and shallow is the operative word here); the lack of Congressional oversight and direction, the supply issue discussed above, and the ‘problem of the unionization of the chemical facility inspection force. Waxman (D,CA), Pallone (D,NJ) and Dingle (D,MI) all repeatedly made the point that the lack of comprehensive chemical security legislation like HR 2883 they ‘pushed’ through last session made it nearly impossible for ISCD to properly execute this mission in the first place. I think that is a slight exaggeration of the situation, but, as I have stated on many occasions, it has certainly contributed to the current situation.

Gardner (R, CO) and Harper (R,MS) asked a series of relatively pointed questions about the role of the CFSI unionization in causing some of the delays in the implementation of CFATS. What neither of them asked, however, was why the workforce asked for union representation in the first place. I’ve heard from a number of the inspectors that they reluctantly voted for the union because management ignored their concerns about pay and organizational issues. Congress needs to look at the unionization issue as a symptom of the problems not a cause.

NOTE: I was very surprised that neither Waxman, Dingle nor Pallone, all big time union supporters and beneficiaries of large union political donations, raised a single word of objection to the reports noting that the union was a potential part of the problem.

Oh there was one other issue that was discussed at some length, the use of TWIC as a substitute for a personnel surety program. While the report offers the currently planned (but not yet politically approved) personnel surety program as a positive step forward, both Chairman Shimkus (R,IL) and Ranking Member Green (D,TX) chastised Beers for the Department not more explicitly stating that personnel holding TWIC should not have to be screened by the personnel surety program. Beers reminded them that he didn’t own the TWIC program (it is sort of co-owned by TSA and the Coast Guard, both of which are in DHS; a fact evidently not known by the Ranking Member who kept referring to the Department of Transportation).

Disappointing Congressional Performance

All in all I was very disappointed in this hearing. I’ll take a closer look at some things that probably would have been addressed if the Committee really knew anything about the problems in DHS in future blogs.

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