Bill benefits security pros at high-risk chemical sites

Legislation spurred in part by Texas fertilizer plant explosion
Monday, January 20, 2014

WASHINGTON—A bill in the works would improve how the Department of Homeland Security manages a set of performance-based guidelines for high-risk chemical facilities, known as the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards or CFATS. The bill would benefit security personnel at those sites in making the standards permanent and in giving integrators a firm handle on solutions to better assist end users.

“For integrators, finding the solutions to meet the requirements of those standards has really been the market definer,” Don Erickson, CEO of SIA, which is backing the bill, told Security Director News. “There’s a real opportunity in terms of vending a solution as a provider to help those facilities meet these standards.”

Introduced in 2009 as part of the DHS Appropriations Act, CFATS comprise a set of 18 federal regulations that facilities housing hazardous materials must comply with. The regulations, imposed by DHS, consist of requirements for both physical and cyber security, as well as for other functional areas, Erickson said.

The legislation is motivated in part by the 2013 explosion of a fertilizer plant in rural Texas.

Jake Parker, government relations director at SIA, said the standards have been extended twice since their inception. But in the interest of providing greater certainty to integrators, SIA hopes the bill will put in place a long-term authorization that eliminates the recurring “sunset.” 

“That’s one of the options—we could potentially make authorization permanent, which is what the administration actually prefers,” Parker said. He added: “One of the options for Congress is to put those in statute, but we would prefer that they be flexible to change as things evolve.”

Another critical component of the push for permanent reauthorization of the standards, Parker noted, is mobilizing a working group, composed primarily of security integrators, who can weigh in on the bill before it is finalized. “We would like to get our members involved with CFATS and really put together a snapshot of their involvement and be able to take that to the Hill as this reauthorization process evolves,” Parker said. “Hopefully we can get them involved in oversight hearings held prior to an authorization bill being marked up.” 

At it stands now, the timeline for the bill landing could be in March, when the Senate holds its first oversight hearing, Parker said. But on the House side, there’s the possibility that the House Homeland Security Committee could convene and have a bill ready “as soon a month from now,” Parker said in early January. 

SIA’s ultimate objective is to give integrators engaged in the chemical facilities vertical firmer ground to stand on. Erickson believes issues surrounding CFATS legislation and regulatory issues are going to be prominent in 2014. 

“It’s on the minds of integrators, whether they’re as large as Kratos or smaller independent integrators as well,” he said. “The frustration is that the program for a variety of reasons has been criticized for so-called mismanagement or lack of direction within DHS. Hopefully through additional congressional oversight, DHS has a more clear direction from the Hill as to how to manage the program and prioritize.”