There’s a hefty list of action items as Congress approaches its funding deadline this week. One item that should be at the top of that list is national security, specifically passing legislation to restore the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Security (CFATS) program.
From the medicines that maintain our health to the treatment of our drinking water, to the fuel in our vehicles, and even the microchips that run our smartphones, chemicals are used in nearly every U.S. industry and are critical to a strong supply chain. The vital role of the chemical industry, however, comes with unique security challenges that require government agencies and companies working together to stay ahead of the ever-evolving physical and cyber threats facing our nation.
And those threats are real and show no signs of diminishing. In fact, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) latest threat assessment states that the threat of terrorism from domestic and foreign actors remains high. Unfortunately, in the face of continued threats and in the shadow of the anniversary of 9/11, the nation’s chemical facility security program expired on July 28, leaving our nation without key safeguards and tools to fight terrorism.
The loss of CFATS has left the chemical industry managing countless threats without valuable tools and support from DHS. For example, our industry lost the ability to vet, on average, 300 names per day, or 9,000 names a month, to determine whether individuals who are trying to access chemical facilities have ties to terrorism. As the only way private businesses are able to vet individuals for these security purposes, the loss of the CFATS program weakens our national security posture and places employees, facilities, and communities at risk.
During last month’s 2023 Chemical Security Summit, it was clear that there was overwhelming support of the program across the industry, DHS, and the White House. In fact, DHS leadership underscored the importance of this program by noting that the agency was contacted a few years ago by a chemical manufacturer about an unusual order.
As a result of its CFATS authorities, DHS investigated this incident further and was able to link it to another seemingly unrelated batch of stolen chemicals from a high-risk chemical facility in a major metropolitan area. CFATS gave DHS, local law enforcement, and federal agents the authority to launch a swift national security response, preventing what could have been a devastating catastrophe.
And the recent shortage of cleaning and disinfection products as a result of a cyber-attack serves as another vivid reminder of why industry and the government must work together.
For nearly two decades, CFATS has delivered solid results and demonstrated how regulations can and should work. In many ways CFATS is a model program. Instead of taking a command-and-control approach it offers flexibility and assistance focused on helping facilities improve security. According to a recent analysis by DHS, security measures at CFATS-regulated facilities have increased by 60 percent. As a result, the country is more secure.
Quite simply CFATS works, and the country needs it. That’s probably why the program has been reauthorized four times with strong bipartisan support since it was created. This time around should have been no different, especially since the House approved legislation with resounding bipartisan support to prevent the program from expiring.
Now it’s time for the Senate to do its job and restore CFATS. And it should not take an act of terrorism to make it happen.
The views expressed here are the writers’ and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email editor @ hstoday.us.