Senate tweaks House-passed CFATS bill

Senate committee wants to extend authorization interval proposed in House bill, which passed in July
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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

WASHINGTON—Bipartisan cooperation and security industry feedback could help secure the passage of a Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards authorization bill before the end of 2014.

At the beginning of 2014, the passage of a CFATS bill in the House seemed a long shot, Jake Parker, government relations director at the Security Industry Association, told Security Systems News. But he credits the increased cooperation among lawmakers across the aisles with bringing about a turning point.

“[Lawmakers] made a strong effort to work in a bipartisan [fashion] early on, and they reached out to the industry,” Parker said. “We had a large group of industry stakeholders, and [lawmakers] sought input from them.”

In recent years, SIA has advocated for permanent authorization of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards, a set of performance-based guidelines often considered a market definer for integrators involved with securing critical infrastructure. While that will likely not come to pass in the near-term, getting an authorization bill signed into law could be a step in that direction.  

The House of Representatives passed the CFATS Authorization and Accountability Act in early July. Later that month, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee circulated a Senate companion bill, proposing a few alterations to the House-passed legislation. CFATS comprise a set of 18 federal regulations that facilities housing hazardous materials must comply with. Enforced by the DHS, the regulations include requirements both for physical and cyber security procedures.

The tweaks made by the Senate committee were mostly minor and technical, SIA’s Parker told Security Systems News. Most significant are changes allowing lower-risk-tier facilities to self certify and to be subject to random audits to help clear the backlog.  

“From what I understand, those changes would likely be acceptable to the House, so there could be a path forward here to get that bill passed sometime this fall,” Parker said.

The Senate version also includes a four-year authorization instead of the three-year interval proposed in the House bill. According to Parker, that’s a better scenario.

“We’d like the authorization to be as long as possible to provide more certainty to the industry,” he said.

Also problematic is that some hazardous materials facilities have been “holding back on making security improvements and waiting to see what will happen [with the CFATS regulations],” Parker said. Statutory authorization would ameliorate that issue, making facilities less leery of investing in security, he noted.

“Basically this gives [DHS] a couple years to make progress in improving the management of the program, and it gives Congress time to come back in three or four years, assess the program, fix any problems, and either keep it going or provide a permanent authorization at that point,” Parker said.  

Passage of the bill now rests on getting it to the Senate floor after the August recess. If it passes by unanimous consent, the bill would return to the House as an amendment to the House resolution. At that point, the bill could pass by expedited vote, joining a list of “non-controversial items” Congress typically approves by voice vote before the end of the session, Parker told SSN.