Sunday, July 22, 2012

Congressional Hearings – Week of 07-23-12

With two weeks left before the long summer vacation Congress starts to look more at the bills that can pass rather than the legislation that is needed. There are only two hearings that will be of interest to the chemical security community and only S 3414 possibly on the horizon for the cybersecurity community. The two House hearings of interest are a homeland threat assessment and a CFATS Hearing.

Homeland Threat Assessment

The House Homeland Security Committee will be holding a hearing Wednesday on “Understanding the Homeland Threat Landscape”. Secretary Napolitano and the National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen are the only witnesses currently scheduled to testify. This is scheduled as an open hearing so there won’t be anything really interesting here.

CFATS Hearing

On Thursday the House Appropriations Committee will be holding a hearing on the Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Standards (CFATS) program. It seems kind of odd timing for such a hearing before this Committee as the DHS spending bill that already passed in the House had the CFATS funding cut in half by the Committee.

Having said that it looks like this may be an important hearing for the future of the CFATS program. No one from ISCD is scheduled to testify. The DHS witness is Under Deputy Secretary Suzanne Spaulding, the number two person at NPPD. She won’t have much personal insight into the source of the problems at ISCD since she just joined NPPD in November, but the Committee will probably be pressing here for info on the steps being taken to correct the problem.

The most important witness, however, will be Director Steve Caldwell, of the GAO’s Homeland Security & Justice Issues. The report that he presents to the Committee will be the first real outside look at this program since its inception in 2007. It will certainly be the first definitive look at CFATS since its problems were publicly identified in December.

It is unfortunate that the first real look at these problems has to come from the Appropriations Committee, particularly after this year’s appropriations process has been almost completed. But the Senate Homeland Security Committee has completely ignored their oversight responsibility and the House Homeland Security and the Energy and Commerce Committees held hearings that were even less effective than the NPPD oversight of the program. So it is left to the Appropriations Committee to take care of a problem that was created in an appropriations bill.

The Appropriations Committee does have one more potential time to affect the CFATS program this session. That is when the DHS spending bill comes before the conference committee to iron out the inevitable differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Unless this hearing produces some news of an overwhelming turnaround at ISCD (and there has been no public performance to date that would indicate that) I would expect that this committee’s leadership will insist on their draconian cuts of the funding for the CFATS program; cuts that were not questioned in the House consideration of the bill.

S 3414

The Senate does not publish a weekly schedule of what it will be considering (it doesn’t know itself that far in advance), but it is looking increasingly likely that S 3414 may actually make it to the floor this week. News reports seem to indicate that the privacy advocates are satisfied with this revision and we have heard little from the business community. If they have no serious objections the Senate might start consideration of this bill. If they do there will be lots of amendments to be considered and I doubt that the bill will be passed this week. It still won’t be taken up by the House until after the election (if then) in any case.

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