Brooklyn, N.Y. – Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke spoke today the floor of the House of Representatives in support of H.R. 4007, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Program Authorization and Accountability Act of 2014. The bill was passed by a voice vote.
Congresswoman Clarke commended her Republican and Democratic colleagues on their effort to protect our chemical facilities from the threat of attack, but explained her concerns about the reliance on contractors to complete inspections and on the inadequacy of protections for whistleblowers who alert the Department of Homeland Security and other regulatory agencies to problems.
“We cannot afford any mistakes in protecting our chemical facilities from potential acts of terrorism or accidents, which presents a serious risk of harm to hundreds of thousands or even millions of people,” said Congresswoman Clarke, the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies. “In addition, I believe the Department of Homeland Security should have access the best information available about any potential for danger, and that information necessarily includes reports from whistleblowers.”
Congresswoman Clarke’s speech (as prepared):
“Mr. Speaker, the Committee on Homeland Security has a great stake, and a long history of trying to help the troubled Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards, or “CFATS”, program succeed.
“Consideration of H.R. 4007 today is our latest effort.
“While I feel that it would have been better to bring this bill before the Full House under a Rule so that Members could offer amendments, I want to commend my counterpart on the Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies Subcommittee, Mr. Meehan for his diligence and commitment to moving the legislation through regular order in Committee.
“Upon introduction of this bill, I had a number of concerns with the bill.
“Amazingly, the original legislation had a requirement that required CFATS to terminate after two years. It also did not provide an authorization of appropriations or codify this critical infrastructure protection program within the Homeland Security Act.
“This was corrected by Democratic amendments, many of which I offered, that were accepted in Committee.
“A major impetus for action to authorize the CFATS program was certainly the explosion last April in West, Texas, at a fertilizer facility containing a huge amount of ammonium nitrate.
“As we later learned, that facility was willfully “off the regulatory grid” and unknown to DHS.
“Through the Committee process, language was adopted to give DHS new authority to bring so-called “outlier” facilities into compliance.
“We had an energetic debate at Subcommittee with respect to whether non-governmental third-party contractors should be utilized to carry out compliance visits and inspections.
“I appreciate the Majority’s view that augmenting the DHS inspector workforce in this fashion could be helpful with respect to the massive backlog of security inspections that exists in the CFATS programs. However, there are other ways to increase capacity without contracting out jobs.
“Further, there is a troubled history within the CFATS program of over-reliance on contractors. I believe that that if DHS goes down this path, there need to be structures in place to ensure that work done by contractors is promptly and accurately fed into the regulatory system. That is why I offered language in Committee to build in oversight and accountability. I am pleased to say that it was accepted.
“A lingering concern, underscored by the Steelworkers, Teamsters, and others, is even as there is broad recognition that for CFATS to work we need chemical workers to come forward to report security vulnerabilities and CFATS compliance issues, no guaranteed whistleblower protections attach.
“Men and women that risk their positions and paychecks to make their workplace, their communities, and the Nation more secure deserve access to meaningful whistleblower protections.
“Should H.R. 4007 be approved today, I would put whistleblower protections high on the “to do” list for the Senate.
“Then there is the matter of the statutory exemptions barring DHS from regulating water, wastewater, and other critical infrastructure chemical facilities.
“The bill perpetuates the exemption without consideration of the arguments that former DHS-Secretary Michael Chertoff and others have made about the risks.
“Encouragingly, the Committee accepted an amendment offered by Ranking Member Thompson to require an independent study of the terrorism vulnerabilities associated with the limited authority granted to DHS and the exemption on water and wastewater facilities.
“The results of that study will be important to inform Congress when the CFATS is up for reauthorization in three years.
“Overall, I would say that through the Committee process, the bill has been improved.
“Is there more work to be done? Certainly.
“That is why I am profoundly disappointed that H.R. 4007 is being considered on suspension.
“Many Members of this body that do not have the privilege to sit on the Homeland Security Committee have concerns about this vital critical infrastructure program that affects their districts, towns, and neighborhoods.
“They should have the opportunity to offer amendments.
“That said, the Committee has put forth a product that deserves consideration by the Senate. For this reason, I will support the bill.
“With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back.”
U.S. Representative Yvette D. Clarke is a member of the House Committee on Small Business, Ethics, and Homeland Security, where she is the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies. She represents many neighborhoods in central and southern Brooklyn, NY which include Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Gerritsen Beach, Madison, Midwood, parts of Park Slope and Flatlands, Prospect Heights, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Sheepshead Bay, and Windsor Terrace.