The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program is set to expire on October 4, 2014. With only four weeks to go until the program sunsets, Congress is operating on a tight deadline.
Since the CFATS program’s establishment in 2007, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) authority to regulate security at our nation’s chemical facilities has been tied to appropriations bills. Although Congress kept the program running through their common practice of year-to-year extensions or short-term continuing resolutions, lawmakers have not made statutory changes to improve the program as it matured.
Over the years, Congress has made numerous, but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to take CFATS off of the appropriations track. Should Congress succeed in passing a multi-year authorization bill, this will enable DHS to implement CFATS more efficiently and provide business with the certainty it needs to ensure the long-term, sound facility security investments that need to be made are not made in vain.
Will Congress be able to take that first step to improve CFATS?
As the second session of the 113th Congress got underway, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies, introduced the “Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Authorization and Accountability Act of 2014” (HR 4007). The legislation, which received bipartisan support, would provide a three-year authorization of the CFATS program, creates a more efficient site security plan approval process, and makes necessary fixes to personnel surety requirements needed for facility access. Specifically, HR 4007 would ensure that a facility may use any Federal screening program—including the DHS Personnel Surety Program—that periodically vets individuals against the Terrorist Screening Database.
Backed by AFPM and numerous industry stakeholders, HR 4007 steadily worked its way through the Homeland Security Committee. The bill passed at the subcommittee and full committee levels, as amended, by unanimous consent, on April 30 and June 23, respectively. On July 8, HR 4007 passed the House by a voice vote under Suspension of the Rules – a tactic reserved for noncontroversial measures.
After the House acted, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) leadership were eager to introduce a similar CFATS authorization bill. On July 30, the Senate HSGAC held a business meeting where Chairman Carper (D-DE) and Ranking Member Coburn (R-OK) offered a bipartisan substitute amendment to HR 4007. The substitute amendment, which provides a four-year authorization of the CFATS program, also addresses concerns surrounding personnel surety requirements and creates a voluntary self-certification program for Tier 3 and Tier 4 facilities, passed out of Committee by a voice vote.
As Congress prepares to reconvene after the August recess, lawmakers are faced with a tight legislative calendar this fall. It remains to be seen whether or not CFATS authorization will continue to see floor action this year, as the measure still has to be considered by the Senate. Or, will the program remain unchanged, stuck in appropriations for yet another year?