The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) chemical facility management program is struggling to get facilities to create security frameworks under an updated program. The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) Expedited Approval Program, which was fully implemented in June 2015, allows lower-risk chemical facilities to develop expedited security plans and gain CFATS compliance. The new program was seen as a way to encourage chemical facilities to more easily develop security plans that identify and assess the risk posed by the facilities, as well as a way for DHS to assess all chemical facility sites and security plans.
However, as of April, only two of the 2,496 eligible facilities opted to use the Expedited Approval Program, according to a new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, DHS Has Fully Implemented Its Chemical Security Expedited Approval Program, and Participation to Date Has Been Limited. The expedited program was in response to the longer, more complicated CFATS program that made facilities slow to gain approval.
GAO had intended to assess the effects on facility security, if any, as a result of using the Expedited Approval Program versus the standard program. However, with just two facilities participating in the program, it could not assess its impact on facility security or reducing DHS’s site approval backlog.
The report notes that there are several factors to why more facilities did not participate in the expedited program. By the time DHS approved the new CFATS program in 2015, most facilities had already begun the standard security plan approval process. Also, by taking away some in-depth assessments to make the approval process quicker, the new program requires more strict and less flexible security procedures, so some facilities still preferred developing the standard security plan, even if it took longer. Similarly, some facilities preferred the more thorough security assessment and review provided by the standard program—“DHS conducts in-person authorization inspections to confirm that security plans address risks under the standard process, but does not conduct them under the expedited program,” the report notes. “DHS officials noted that some facilities may prefer having this inspection because it provides them useful information.”
The future of the expedited program is uncertain—in part due to lack of participation, but also because of recent changes to the CFATS program. In fact, one of the two facilities that were approved through the expedited process is no longer deemed high risk after DHS changed its methodology for determining the level of risk at chemical facilities.