Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Public Input to Congressional Hearings

One of the things that I do on a routine basis is to look at a variety of Congressional web sites to keep track of upcoming hearings and votes. While Congress is on an extended recess, I do this much less frequently because changes do still occur. The latest change of note is a change in the format of the House Energy and Commerce Committee web site. Of particular interest is the addition of a public comment feature on the Hearing pages (see for example).

Public Comments – Old Style

Now people have always been able to get information entered into the record by sending it to a friendly congresscritter. Of course, if that critter didn’t agree with the point of view of the personal submission it wasn’t likely to get into the record. And, of course, money talks, so the big lobbying organizations were more likely to get their letters entered into the record than was JQ Public.

The down side of that type of submission has always been that it is seldom part of the ‘public record’. Well officially it is there and available if you dig hard enough, but I have never seen any of these letters published on a congressional hearing web page; that is the real public record even though it may not legally qualify as such.

The New Public Comment Form

What the folks at Energy and Commerce have done is to add the same type of public comment tool that you see on many web sites now days. It includes a place for name (no indication if anonymous comments will take), email address (not to be made public?), web site address (if you have such a thing), and a block for your comments. There is no word about how long the comment may be.

More importantly, there is no indication if comments filed via this tool will become part of the ‘real public record’ or will be just shunted to a file cabinet somewhere, to be read only by Committee Staffers tabulating points of view.

Since I saw this form first on the web site for an upcoming hearing about the CFATS program {The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Program – A Progress Report; September 11th, 2012}, I thought that I would post a comment to see what happens. So the next section contains the text of the comment that I will be submitting. We’ll see how it shows up in the ‘record’.

CFATS SSP Comments

Since the Committee will be looking at the progress of the CFATS program, here are some of points that I would like to see addressed by the Committee and the witnesses at the hearing. They all are pertinent to the lack of progress on the authorization of Site Security Plans.

  1. Since Congress, in its §550 program authorization, has forbidden DHS from establishing specific criteria that facilities must implement to have their security plans authorized, ISCD is not legally able to tell facilities what security measures should be implemented to achieve authorization. How, then, does ISCD communicate deficiencies in the Site Security Plan to owners so that they might make appropriate corrections to their plans?
  2. ISCD has stated on a number of occasions that part of the delay in authorizing SSPs has been an inadequate amount of details in the submissions made via the SSP tool in CSAT. This would seem to indicate that the SSP tool was lacking in the information that it was requesting, either in specificity about particular areas or by not asking the appropriate questions. Why hasn’t the SSP tool been modified to correct those deficiencies?
  3. Since alternative security plans must still meet the 18 risk-based performance standards set out in the CFATS regulations (6 CFR 27.230) no one has explained how a facility might gain an advantage by using an ASP. Did Congress intend for the certification authorities supporting security programs developed, for example, by the American Chemistry Council, to be used as SSP authorizations instead of having ISCD perform the necessary SSP reviews?
  4. Early in the CFATS process DHS established the Chemical Facility Security Academy as a training venue for its Chemical Facility Security Inspectors. The Anderson-Wulf memo apparently implies that there is no current training program for CFSI. Why was the CFSA discontinued?


Anonymous said...

Can you provide a link to the upcoming meeting on Sept 11 for CFATS? Is this a continuation of the one that was cut short a month or so ago?

PJCoyle said...

Anonymous: The link for the hearing page is
This is not a continuation of the shortened July hearing. That was before the House Appropriations Committee. This hearing will be before the Energy and Commerce Committee.
I may have more information in this weekend’s blog on next week’s Congressional Hearings.

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