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The Infrastructure Compliance Security Division (ICSD) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has had eight directors since 2006 and this leadership turnover resulted in turmoil for the division’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, a new report said.

The CFATS program manages adoption of security plans at high-risk chemical plants, said the DHS inspector general (IG) Tuesday.

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The tumultuous atmosphere generated by leadership turnover contributed to poor communications and a lack of transparency in ICSD, a unit of the DHS National Programs and Protection Directorate (NPPD), said an IG report, “Effectiveness of the Infrastructure Security Compliance Division’s Management Practices to Implement the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Program.” This environment contributed to poor decision-making by ICSD staff, significantly slowing progress in CFATS to authorize site security plans (SSPs) being implemented by chemical plants.

According to allegations from unnamed ICSD employees, the working environment impedes their abilities to successfully carry out their duties and harms morale, the report said.

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“Program progress has been slowed by inadequate tools, poorly executed processes and insufficient feedback on facility submissions,” the IG report said. “In addition, program oversight had been limited, and confusing terminology and absence of appropriate metrics led to misunderstandings of program progress.

“The Infrastructure Security Compliance Division still struggles with a reliance on contractors and the inability to provide employees with appropriate training,” the report continued. “Overall efforts to implement the program have resulted in systematic noncompliance with sound federal government internal controls and fiscal stewardship, and employees perceive that their opinions have been suppressed or met with retaliation. Although we were unable to substantiate any claims of retaliation or suppression of non-conforming opinions, the Infrastructure Security Compliance Division work environment and culture cultivates this perception.”

The IG report made 24 specific recommendations to address these shortcomings, saying all but one of them resolved by NPPD responses.

NPPD Undersecretary Rand Beers, meanwhile, protested the characterization of ICSD in the IG report in a response dated March 14. Beers emphasized an action plan for correcting CFATS deficiencies drafted in late 2011, drawn from an internal memorandum. The corrective action plan contained 95 action items, 88 of which ended up implemented, Beers said.

The IG office decided to overlook progress in that action plan and narrowed its review to the end of fiscal year 2012 to avoid conflict with two ongoing CFATS reviews conducted by the Government Accountability Office, Beers said.

“Unfortunately, the decision to undertake what is now an historical review, along with the admitted lack of balance, necessarily diminishes the value and relevance of many of the issues and findings discussed in the report,” the undersecretary wrote.

As of March 8, 2013, ISCD authorized 263 SSPs, conducted 131 authorization inspections and approved 47 SSPs, including alternative security programs, Beers said. “ISCD is now on pace to authorize, inspect and approve between 30 and 50 SSPs per month, and is continuing to explore ways to further increase the pace of performance.”

The IG report also was not able to substantiate any claims of retaliation and suppression of non-conforming opinions although cited as evidence of a poor work environment, Beers said.

Established by the DHS Appropriations Act of 2007, CFATS intends to regulate chemical facilities where a chemical explosion could harm surrounding population centers or the environment.

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