Federal Chemical Security Program in Shambles, New Report Says

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – A multi-million dollar effort by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to secure dangerous chemical facilities from terrorists is a near-total failure, according to a new Congressional report, Chemical Insecurity.”

Since 2006, Congress has poured nearly $600 million into the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, and outfitted DHS with hefty authorities to require tough new security standards for chemical manufacturing plants, storage tanks and other facilities. But the country is little safer, concludes the report from U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK).

“Today – eight years later – there is little, if any, evidence to show that the more than half a billion dollars DHS has spent created an effective chemical security regulatory program or measurably reduced the risk of an attack on our chemical industrial infrastructure,” according to Dr. Coburn.

What happened?

The report, drawing from documents obtained from DHS, interviews, as well as audits and reviews by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the DHS Inspector General, points to a laundry list of errors and bad decisions, many of which the Department has worked to keep from the public. For instance:

  • DHS officials discovered in 2010 they had erroneously included 100 sites that should never have been part of the program, due to a “computational error.”
  • In another risk-calculation flub, DHS officials in 2012 realized they forgot to factor in the risk to populations who lived near chemical facilities that weren’t in the continental United States, such as plants in Alaska and Hawaii.
  • An internal DHS review last year found “fundamental problems, errors, inconsistencies, and unsupported assumptions in the methodology underlying the whole CFATS program.”

Based on these errors – along with other problems previously reported, including CFATS officials’ purchase of rappelling gear, HAZMAT suits and other equipment for which they had no need.

Dr. Coburn concludes:

  •  DHS’ CFATS program is not reducing our nation’s risk of a terrorist attack on chemical facilities.
  • DHS does not know whether some dangerous chemical facilities even exist.
  • CFATS regulates the wrong facilities.
  • DHS is not transparent about how the CFATS program works and creates an adversarial relationship with the companies it regulates.

“Without major changes in the program, the CFATS program will never work as intended,” said Dr. Coburn.

As Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Dr. Coburn alongside the Chairman Tom Carper are expected to release reform legislation for the program at a committee business meeting on Wednesday.