When it comes to politics and security, there seems to be a bipartisan sense of importance as both parties in the U.S. House of Representatives passed CFATS legislation Tuesday which codifies and strengthens the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program.
The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) Program Authorization and Accountability Act of 2014 (HR 4007) bill will provide a three-year authorization for the program. The legislation will now move to Senate for approval.
“The tragic fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas last year killed 15 people and showed the potential for disaster at any one of our countries chemical facilities,” but with the passage of H.R. 4007, “the House has taken steps toward authorizing and strengthening the CFATS program, which ensures these facilities are implementing security standards to protect against a terrorist attack,” said House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX).
“This bipartisan bill is simple. It makes Americans safer by improving security standards at thousands of chemical facilities across our nation,” said Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies Chairman Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), who introduced the bill. “The explosion in West, Texas last year demonstrated how catastrophic an attack on one of these facilities would be. It is vitally important that we ensure our first responders have adequate knowledge of where these facilities are located. This bill does that. It is supported by Republicans, Democrats and the Secretary of Homeland Security. It’s an example of bipartisanship all too rare in Washington today.”
The House also passed the Department of Homeland Security Interoperable Communications Act (HR 4289), which was introduced by Subcommittee ranking member Donald Payne (D-NJ). This legislation addresses the recommendations of a November 2012 DHS Office of Inspector General report which found DHS lacks an effective governance structure to ensure interoperable communications among its components.
“The ability of our first responders to communicate with each other and with the public during a terrorist attack or natural disaster is imperative,” McCaul said. “I am pleased the House passed HR 4263 and HR 4289 to ensure that our first responders are able to communicate with each other via interoperable communications systems and with the public via social media during times of crisis.”
Although it came to life nearly eight years ago, DHS had made little progress until recently in actually implementing the CFATS program, which calls for the agency to sign off on security plans at chemical facilities and perform inspections to verify companies’ implemented appropriate measures. Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this year, Suzanne Spaulding, undersecretary, national protection and programs directorate at DHS, said that just two years ago, the agency hadn’t approved a single site security plan or compliance inspection. However, she said the agency has since approved more than 760 site security plans, completed 31 compliance inspections and more 1,000 authorization inspections.