For the first time in years, the Homeland Security Department’s chemical-security program appears to have the support of both House committees with jurisdiction over the issue.
Numerous efforts by the House Homeland Security Committee to pass legislation providing long-term authorization for DHS chemical-facility antiterrorism standards (CFATS) in recent years have failed, largely due to disagreements with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which also oversees the matter.
However, the latest incarnation of the bill — which Representative Patrick Meehan (R-PA) first introduced in February and has backing from House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) — has come together with assistance from House Energy and Commerce Committee staffers, a Homeland Security Committee said.
At a hearing in February, Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS) suggested the bill could actually increase jurisdictional tensions between committees. He also raised concerns the legislation would do little to reform many controversial aspects of the DHS program, which aims at helping shield commercial chemical facilities from terrorist attacks that could prove deadly to surrounding communities.
Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY), the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies, said on Thursday panel Republicans had “paid attention to some of the concerns” Democrats raised in February during the process of drafting an amended version of the bill.
The subcommittee approved the amended bill by a unanimous voice vote on Thursday. However, Clarke and other Democrats said they still had several concerns with the legislation they hoped to have addressed prior to a future vote by the full committee.
During Thursday’s markup session, Clarke and Representative Steven Horsford (D-NV) offered several additional amendments to the bill, nearly all of which ended up rejected on party-line votes.
Among the failed Democratic amendments was one Clarke offered in an attempt to address her concerns the bill could allow DHS to outsource the inspection of chemical facilities to private contractors.
“I have reservations about the use of contractors in the inspector cadre, where this work is generally recognized as an inherently governmental responsibility, especially when it involves terrorist threats and risks to the nation,” she said.
In urging his fellow Republicans to vote against the amendment, Meehan, the subcommittee chairman, said the Energy Department routinely outsources sensitive national security work to the private contractors that run the national laboratories and other nuclear weapons facilities.
Member also rejected an amendment by Clarke meant to address her concerns that water and wastewater facilities — which often deal with dangerous chemicals – remain exempt from the DHS program.