Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
Key Lawmaker Stands by Funding Cut to DHS Chemical Security Program
WASHINGTON – A key House appropriator is standing by plans to slash tens of millions of dollars in funding for a federal initiative aimed at shielding chemical facilities from terrorism by 40 percent, despite reports that the program’s cash reserves are dwindling rapidly.
Republicans on the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee said during a hearing Thursday that when drafting the legislation that contains the proposed cut earlier this year, they believed the program had $20 million in leftover funds that Congress had appropriated in prior years.
When the appropriations legislation was released in May, the cut was further justified by the fact that the Homeland Security Department was only in the beginning stages of addressing numerous problems with the program that had been outlined in an internal government memo, argued the Republicans, including subcommittee Chairman Robert Anderholt (Ala.) and Representative John Carter (Texas). Congress should have assurance that the issues -- which included a litany of management problems such as failure by department personnel to complete reviews of facility security plans -- have been resolved, the lawmakers argued.
The initiative, known as the Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Standards program, requires participating plants to submit plans for dealing with 18 areas of risk including physical protections, control of access, materials security, insider attacks and computer infiltration. The program covers more than 4,000 high-risk sites.
Suzanne Spaulding, deputy undersecretary for the DHS National Protection and Programs Directorate, said during Thursday’s hearing that the program now has only $4 million in unobligated funds from past years. In addition, Spaulding said the department had now completed 70 of 95 actions that the internal memo had identified as necessary in order to correct the program’s problems.
In August, DHS officials reported that only 59 of the 95 action items had been completed. As of June, the department had completed 38 of the 95 items, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Spaulding said progress in recent months on the action items contributed to the dwindling of the program’s funding reserves. She and David Wulf, director of the National Protection and Programs Directorate, said the proposed cut in the House legislation could prevent the operation from making further progress.
After the hearing, Anderholt told Global Security Newswire that, despite the information Spaulding provided during the hearing, he believed the cut his committee proposed earlier in the year was still justified given the program’s track record. Anderholt said committee Republicans still had “unanswered questions” regarding the initiative.
During the hearing, Republicans repeatedly questioned how DHS officials would address concerns that certain aspects of the program might be too burdensome on industry, and in particular a portion of the initiative that would require companies to ensure that people with access to their high-risk facilities do not have known ties to terrorist groups.
In response, DHS officials noted that they recently withdrew the so-called personnel surety proposal that had prompted the concerns, adding that they are holding meetings with industry officials in an effort to craft a new proposal that would be less burdensome. A new proposal is expected this fall, the officials said.
If enacted, the House budget bill would provide $45.4 million for the initiative in the budget year that begins on Oct. 1, which is $29.1 million less than what the Obama administration requested and $47.9 below what Congress appropriated for the present budget year.
However, a continuing budget resolution the Senate could act on as early as today would extend the program’s funding levels from the current fiscal year, meaning the initiative could avoid the cut House Republicans are proposing for an additional six months.
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