Sunday, February 9, 2020

Trump to Eliminate CFATS?

Readers who also follow me on Twitter® (@pjcoyle) may have noticed an exchange between me and @DwightFoley about the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program extension. In that exchange Foley pointed at a document in his possession that indicated that the Trump Administration is proposing to eliminate the CFATS program. Foley provided me with a copy of the document and I have at least tentatively authenticated its authenticity (okay, it is real, it just has not yet been officially released).

The document is “FY 2021 Budget in Brief”. It is a DHS publication that outlines the DHS portion of the President’s FY 2021 budget. On page 61 under the discussion on the Infrastructure Security program it states:

“Eliminates the Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program funding while simultaneously increasing funding significantly for the Protective Security Advisors (PSA) program. This will allow CISA to provide voluntary support for chemical production facilities without the unnecessary burden of regulatory requirements, placing the chemical sector on par with all the other critical infrastructure sectors for which CISA has oversight.”

Actually, the document includes cuts to a number of programs in DHS and the elimination of a number of others. Having said that, it does not really mean much because Presidential budget documents have been a mostly meaningless exercise for a number of years now. Generally speaking Congress ignores the President’s budget request in formulating its own.

The bigger question here is does this reflect a lack of support for the CFATS program within the Administration. I do not think that this is true at the highest levels in the Administration; the program is just too small to really reach the level of awareness at that sort of level. There are those, of course in the White House that generally object to any sort of regulatory program, and those, if pressed, would probably object to the CFATS program on purely philosophical grounds.

As far as I can tell (from public utterances anyway) there is still general support for CFATS and the Infrastructure Security Compliance Division within CISA. There has to be, however, some level of concern about the lack of congressional action on the reauthorization of the program. Of course, most of that type ‘action’ would be behind the scene in any case and at this point I do not expect to see any action until April with the introduction of another short-term reauthorization bill.

This is the thing that we have to keep in mind about this program. It is a congressionally mandated and funded program. There is strong support for the program on both sides of the aisle and on both sides of the Capitol. That support extends to both the oversight committees and the spending committees. While the details of what the various parties want to see happen in the program varies, there is strong support for continuing the program.

Does this mean that the program cannot be killed? Certainly not. While there is a certain amount of inertial support for any governmental program, any program can ultimately be killed by Congress. They seldom die from lack of attention (funding exists at least until September 30th even if the program ‘expires’ on April 18th). Rather federal programs are usually killed by outright opponents of the program. At this point in time, I have seen no sign of organized opposition to the CFATS program in the halls of Congress.

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