Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) Program: What You Need to Know

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implements the Chemical Facility Chemical FacilityAnti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) regulations [H.R. 4007, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) Authorization and Accountability Act of 2014], which regulate security at high-risk facilities possessing more than baseline amounts of one or more ‘chemicals of interest’. ‘Chemicals of interest’ are determined by the DHS and other intelligence organizations. The DHS then identifies a subset of high-risk chemical facilities from among registrants, and these high-risk chemical facilities must each submit a security vulnerability assessment and a site security plan, which DHS then reviews and authorizes. The DHS also inspects and approves high-risk chemical facilities for adherence to their submitted site security plans. It also later inspects for compliance with these plans following DHS approval. The process is time consuming and an administrative hurdle, but in effect, is the only way for the DHS to standardize the security of the highest risk facilities.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) works on behalf of Congress to provide summaries of current issues being discussed by legislators in the House and Senate. In a CRS report issued August 12, 2014, author Dana A. Shea provided a concise analysis of data from “a variety of DHS presentations, testimony, and other sources to present a historical overview of [the CFATS] program performance to date. It identifies an ongoing gap between the number of facilities that have received final risk tier assignments and the total number of regulated facilities.” The key word here is ‘gap.’ As of August 2014, only 970 site security plans (of 1838 submissions and 4,000 facilities under regulation) had been approved for approximately 25 percent completion.

Why is there an ongoing gap, and why the delay in these high-value assets (and high-risk targets) getting the regulation they need? It is not that the facilities under regulation have no security plan in place, but writing them into the CFATS program takes a concerted effort. Chemical facilities must first submit a site security plan to the DHS for approval, and many of these facilities have long-term security protocols that require extensive manpower to augment for the benefit of the CFATS. The time needed to produce such a comprehensive review and legal documentation may have been underestimated by the DHS from the inception of the CFATS program. Therefore, Congressional expectations based on the program literature are not yet met. The future of the program will require continued Congressional oversight and possible re-drafting of the plan’s milestones to accommodate the inertia it is currently experiencing.

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