WASHINGTON—Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Wednesday released a letter he sent to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano raising concerns about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) proposed plan to improve the disaster preparedness of small businesses. Tragedies from 9/11 to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill demonstrate the critical importance of preparedness to businesses and the communities they serve.
The Administration’s initial draft plan addresses small business participation in the private sector preparedness accreditation and certification program. Lieberman, while reiterating his support for the program, raised concerns about the amount of guidance that would be available to small businesses and the possibility that more oversight will be needed to ensure participants are actually meeting program standards.
The letter to Secretary Napolitano follows:
The Honorable Janet Napolitano
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Napolitano:
As the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (the Committee) I am writing to provide comments on the initial plan noticed in the October 1, 2010, Federal Register to address small business concerns in the private sector preparedness accreditation and certification program, commonly referred to as PS-Prep, required by Section 901 of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, P.L. 110-53 (“the Act”). I ask that my letter be treated as a response to the request for comments in FEMA Docket ID FEMA-2008-0017 (75 Fed. Reg. 60773 (October 1, 2010)) and included as part of the public record in that matter. While I enthusiastically support the efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to implement the PS-Prep program, I have some comments on the proposed initial PS-Prep small business plan and ask that you address my comments.
The Act, which was signed into law over three years ago, required DHS to adopt one or more preparedness standards for the program and to implement a certification and accreditation program for private sector preparedness. Given that the private sector controls 85 percent of the critical infrastructure in the Nation, private sector preparedness is a necessity, not a luxury. The 9/11 Commission found that the private sector remains largely unprepared for disasters, and the recent devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico serves as a painful reminder of why preparedness is so important.
To address these preparedness vulnerabilities, Congress required DHS to establish the private sector preparedness accreditation and certification program to replace ad hoc and isolated preparedness measures with appropriate voluntary standards implemented through a structured approach. The program, if properly implemented, will also raise the visibility of the importance of private sector preparedness and provide a roadmap to preparedness, benefitting businesses that choose to participate, and making America safer.
The impact of future disasters on vulnerable cities and towns across the country would be significantly mitigated if businesses are armed with preparedness and recovery programs. Proper preparation leads to resilience and recovery, minimizing the potential impact of a disaster. PS-Prep is a helpful tool in preparing the private sector for all types of disasters and this valuable program should be quickly implemented.
FEMA’s initial proposal to implement the Act’s requirements for separate classifications and methods of certification for small businesses calls for a self-certification of conformance to PS-Prep for small businesses. Small businesses are incredibly important to our economy, however, preparedness efforts of many of these small businesses fall short, posing a threat both to the small businesses’ ability to recover and to the surrounding community, which relies on the small business.
In self-declaring conformity with the PS-Prep standards it is likely that many small businesses will have difficulties understanding steps necessary to be successfully prepared in conformance with the PS-Prep standards. Additionally, proper implementation of necessary steps and continual maintenance of a preparedness program may be challenging for many small businesses. I am concerned that without proper support and guidance, small businesses may be left confused as to how to conform to the PS-Prep standards and will be in need of education before they can become sufficiently prepared and properly self-certify their conformance. Thus, I urge DHS and FEMA to support a business preparedness educational effort. Such education should address the principle features of all preparedness plans and the need to exercise and maintain such plans when completed. DHS should also work to support development of tools that can be used to assist small businesses in becoming prepared.
Additionally, given the current lack of preparedness planning in the small business community, DHS and FEMA must very actively work to raise awareness about the need for preparedness planning in order to get businesses interested in the PS-Prep program. DHS leadership must embark on an active campaign to fully interest the private sector in engaging in this voluntary program. The success of PS-Prep will depend upon the active engagement of the business community.
I also believe that it is important that DHS protect the integrity of the self-declaration process. I’m disappointed that the Federal Register notice states that DHS is still considering the plan for management and oversight of the self-declaration of conformity process as it seems the quality of the management and oversight plan is critical to evaluation of this self-declaration proposal. DHS should carefully consider documentation requirements for self-declaration, and should continually oversee the self-certification process as necessary in order to protect the integrity of the program.
It is important that businesses that have self-certified conformance with PS-Prep standards receive different recognition than those that receive a third-party certification. This will help ensure that those businesses who receive the more rigorous third-party certification are properly credited. I do not believe that those businesses that have self-certified conformance with PS-Prep should be included on the public listing required by section 524(b)(6) of the Homeland Security Act.
Finally, there are a wide range of sizes of businesses, some that are actually quite large, that qualify as “small business concerns.” I question whether a one-size-fits-all approach as proposed in this notice is adequate. DHS should consider whether different methods of conformance should be established for various sizes of entities that qualify as small businesses. DHS should also look for ways to reduce or eliminate the costs of third-party certifications to PS-Prep standards for small businesses. Finally, as the initial plan evolves, it will be vitally important for DHS to carefully evaluate the effectiveness of the initial plan so we can consider what next steps should be taken to address small business concerns requirements in the private sector preparedness and accreditation program.
I look forward to working with you to improve and finalize the initial proposal for PS-Prep for small businesses and to the implementation of the PS-Prep program. Please have your staff brief my staff regularly on the implementation of this important program.
Joseph I. Lieberman
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee