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Politics vs. Security – A Tale of Two Committees

Two Senate committees, three chemical security bills and one issue to rule them all – the role of so-called Inherently Safer Technologies (ISTs) in America’s approach to safeguarding communities from acts of terrorism.  With DHS’ Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) set to expire in October, lawmakers in the Senate are taking steps to keep it alive. What form the program ultimately takes will depend on whether legislators choose to focus on politics or national security.

Here’s where members agree:
1. CFATS, at least in its general form, needs to be maintained
2. The exclusion of drinking water and wastewater systems from CFATS (or a CFATS-like regime) presents a “security gap” due to their use of hazardous chemicals, such as gaseous chlorine

Here’s where members disagree:
1. Whether the existing CFATS program should be made permanent
2. Whether CFATS should be expanded to include other provisions, such as a requirement that certain facilities assess and/or implement IST

Due to jurisdictional issues in the Senate, the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) can only address provisions relating to chemical facilities. The Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee can only address provisions relating to drinking water and wastewater systems.

Both committees held proceedings on chemical security this week. Here’s how things panned out:

  • HSGAC’s Ranking Member, Susan Collins (R-ME), chose to scrap her own bill (S. 2996, the Continuing Chemical Facilities Antiterrorism Security Act of 2010) in order to report out an amended version of H.R. 2868, the Chemical and Water Security Act of 2009 – which would now extend CFATS for three-years and excludes IST provisions. It passed 13-0 with bipartisan support.
  • EPW used Senator Frank Lautenberg’s (D-NJ) bill (S. 3598, the Secure Water Facilities Act) as a backdrop for its hearing.  S. 3598, which includes a strong IST component, does not have bipartisan support.  The hearing was used to extol the virtues of providing the government with IST mandate authority.

HSGAC, which spent most of its time addressing how factors such as risk, vulnerabilities, and consequence impact chemical security, passed a Republican-drafted amendment with unanimous support and moved us closer to establishing a permanent CFATS program. EPW used a hearing as a platform to play politics.

You tell me who got it right.

L. Vance Taylor has worked to advance the mission of homeland security on Capitol Hill and in the private sector. One of only approximately 250 people in the nation with a Master’s degree in Homeland Security, Mr. Taylor combines specialized educational training with real-world experience to leverage successful outcomes for clients and stakeholders. Read More