CFATS: A Work in Progress is Progressing Well
With clear procedures and a streamlined mechanism for SSP evaluation and final approval, CFATS will remain at the forefront of homeland security
By Carlos Barbosa, Vice President, Vertical Development at G4S Secure Solutions USAThe
Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) is a program administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the aim of protecting “high-risk” chemical facilities in the United States. These facilities are high-risk based on the chemicals they have on-site and the potential damage these chemicals can cause if used in a terrorist attack.
Passed by Congress in 2007 as a new program to be managed by the newly formed DHS, CFATS has seen its fair share of growing pains. What was probably the most challenging period for CFATS was the Dec. 2011 publishing of a DHS internal memo by Fox News.
2011 Memo Leak Overshadowed Progress
In the memo, the Director of DHS’ Infrastructure Compliance Security Division (ISCD) presented CFATS challenges and a list of action items to fix those issues.
The main concern revealed in the memo was the ISCD had not approved any Site Security Plans or carried out compliance inspections regulated facilities years after the program was established. Also, the memo indicated that the ISCD culture did not promote professionalism, respect and openness, a lack of measurable employee performance goals, and unclear performance and conduct standards.
The leaked memo created a storm of criticism against the program. Voices from the public and even from members of Congress who had historically supported the program, such as Susan Collins (R-Maine), called for heads to roll. Collins even expressed that DHS had misled Congress on the real progress of the program.
2012 GAO Report Shows CFATS Progress
Unfortunately, this was a case of the media sensationalizing what should have been an internal discussion. A July 2012 report by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the leaked memo and the progress ISCD has made on addressing those issues indicates that the memo was not intended for wider internal or external dissemination and that, as recognized by the Director herself, was based on opinions and conclusions that had not undergone the normal review process by DHS’s Secretariat. It also indicates that the memo was not reflective of the official DHS position.
Furthermore, senior ISCD officials contacted by GAO for the July 2012 report indicated that although they were generally in agreement with the findings of the memo, they believed it was missing context and balance. They indicated the memo was overly negative and never presented any of the achievements of the program.
The fact that thousands of former high-risk facilities had decided to reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals in order to drop from the program undoubtedly made America safer. To further complicate matters for ISCD and CFATS in particular, the media almost completely ignored that the memo included a plan to solve the identified issues. Ninety-four action items were identified by the Director and her team to address all of the identified issues.
By June 2012, 40 percent of the items in the plan were already completed, according to GAO. The remaining 60 percent were in progress.
One critical and difficult action item in the list is the creation of a new system to review, evaluate and approve/disapprove Site Security Plans. The current system is clearly inadequate and would take years to evaluate all the SSPs.
The conclusion of the GAO report is that, although ISCD has identified numerous challenges facing CFATS, the action plan intended to address those challenges is a step in the right direction. Also, it says that it is too early to know if the action items will have the intended effect on the legislation as only 38 items have been completed so far, with 56 still in progress.
I agree with GAO. CFATS is an important program, without which our country would face an increased risk of terrorist attack. Both industry and government agree on its importance and are willing to make the investments and sacrifices required for its survival. With clear procedures and a streamlined mechanism for SSP evaluation and final approval, CFATS will remain at the forefront of homeland security.
Carlos Barbosa is Vice President, Vertical Development at G4S Secure Solutions USA. He has more than 15 years of experience designing and implementing security solutions for private customers as well as the US government domestically and abroad. His specialty is chemical/petrochemical facility security.
Download the PDF: CFATS: A Work in Progress is Progressing Well