Homeland Security: DHS Is Taking Steps to Enhance Security at Chemical Facilities, but Additional Authority Is Needed

GAO-06-150 Published: Jan 27, 2006. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 2006.
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Highlights

Terrorist attacks on U.S. chemical facilities could damage public health and the economy. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formerly led federal efforts to ensure chemical facility security, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is now the lead federal agency coordinating efforts to protect these facilities from terrorist attacks. GAO reviewed (1) DHS's actions to develop a strategy to protect the chemical industry, (2) DHS's actions to assist in the industry's security efforts and coordinate with EPA, (3) industry security initiatives and challenges, and (4) DHS's authorities and whether additional legislation is needed to ensure chemical plant security. GAO interviewed DHS, EPA, and industry officials, among others.

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Recommendations

Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
To enhance DHS's ability to collect comprehensive information on industry preparedness and better ensure the security of the chemical sector, Congress may wish to consider granting DHS the authority to require high-risk chemical facilities to assess their vulnerability to terrorist attacks and, where necessary, to take corrective action.
Closed – Implemented
In fall 2006, Congress granted DHS overarching regulatory authority over chemical facility security. Specifically, in the Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007, DHS was granted authority to require high-risk chemical facilities to complete vulnerability assessments, develop facility security plans, and implement protective measures necessary to meet DHS-defined performance standards. In April 2007, DHS published the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), the regulations implementing this authority. The new rule gives the department authority to seek compliance through the imposition of civil penalties, of up to $25,000 per day, and the ability to shut non-compliant facilities down. DHS published the rule in the federal register, and as of June 8, 2007, DHS has the authority to enforce the regulations. DHS will publish a list of chemicals of concern and threshold quantities in the Federal Register that must comply with the regulation. From the date that DHS finalized list of chemicals of concern and the threshold quantities are published in the Federal Register, affected facilities that quality for regulation will have 60 days to provide initial information for the risk assessment process. According to DHS officials, the final list should be published by the end of July 2007. Covered facilities contacted by the department will have 120 days from the publication of the regulation in the Federal Register to provide information for the risk assessment process. Other requirements follow that time period. Additional facilities will follow a similar timeframe after future Federal Register publications.
To enhance DHS's ability to collect comprehensive information on industry preparedness and better ensure the security of the chemical sector, Congress may wish to consider providing DHS with the enforcement capability to ensure that facilities are following these practices.
Closed – Implemented
In fall 2006, Congress granted DHS overarching regulatory authority over chemical facility security. Specifically, in the Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007, DHS was granted authority to require high-risk chemical facilities to complete vulnerability assessments, develop facility security plans, and implement protective measures necessary to meet DHS-defined performance standards. In April 2007, DHS published the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), the regulations implementing this authority. The new rule gives the department authority to seek compliance through the imposition of civil penalties, of up to $25,000 per day, and the ability to shut non-compliant facilities down. DHS published the rule in the federal register, and as of June 8, 2007, DHS has the authority to enforce the regulations. DHS will publish a list of chemicals of concern and threshold quantities in the Federal Register that must comply with the regulation. From the date that DHS finalized list of chemicals of concern and the threshold quantities are published in the Federal Register, affected facilities that quality for regulation will have 60 days to provide initial information for the risk assessment process. According to DHS officials, the final list should be published by the end of July 2007. Covered facilities contacted by the department will have 120 days from the publication of the regulation in the Federal Register to provide information for the risk assessment process. Other requirements follow that time period. Additional facilities will follow a similar timeframe after future Federal Register publications.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security Because completion of the Chemical Sector-Specific Plan is critical to DHS's efforts to enhance chemical facility security, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct DHS to ensure that the Chemical Sector-Specific Plan is completed in a timely manner.
Closed – Implemented
In May 2007, DHS released the Chemical Sector Specific Plan.
Department of Homeland Security Because completion of the Chemical Sector-Specific Plan is critical to DHS's efforts to enhance chemical facility security, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct DHS to recognize EPA's expertise in managing chemical risks, jointly study with EPA whether chemical facilities' efforts to reduce vulnerabilities would benefit from the use of technologies that substitute safer chemicals and processes, referred to as "inherently safer technologies."
Closed – Not Implemented
DHS does not agree with this recommendation and does not plan to take any action.

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