Congress must act on chemical security before terrorists do

This content is provided by the American Chemistry Council.

America’s national security is being challenged. The National Terrorism Advisory System warns the United States remains in a heightened threat environment. Those threats are real and show no signs of diminishing.

This is not the time to let our guard down or let politics get in the way of fighting terrorism. We need every tool available to help keep our country safe. That’s why Congress must restore the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program. CFATS addresses cyber and physical threats for high-risk facilities and is the only program that allows companies to vet personnel against the FBI terrorist screening database. Unfortunately, despite bipartisan support, CFATS was allowed to expire this summer when the Senate failed to pass legislation to reauthorize the 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 to work together in order to stay ahead of the ever-evolving physical and cyber threats facing our nation.

The loss of CFATS has left the chemical industry managing countless threats without valuable tools and support from the Department of Homeland Security. 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.

During this year’s Chemical Security Summit, DHS leadership shared a cautionary story that underscored the importance of CFATS. The agency was contacted a few years ago by a chemical manufacturer about an unusual order. DHS investigated the incident further and linked it to another seemingly unrelated batch of stolen chemicals from a 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.

That’s why it should come as no surprise that law enforcement and emergency responders, including the National Sheriffs’ Association are urging Congress to restore CFATS. In a letter to congressional leaders the group put it plainly, “It is evident that the CFATS program plays a pivotal role in securing our nation’s critical infrastructure and national supply chains. Additionally, the CFATS program ensures across-the-board communication and collaboration between high-risk chemical facilities and local emergency services that protect communities. For these reasons, we would like to reiterate our sectors’ support for the CFATS program to ensure high-risk chemical facilities remain secure against bad actors.” In a letter to Senator McConnell the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association pointed out that “In a world where security threats are evolving, vigilance is key. Having a federal chemical security program in place helps identify threats and helps ensure coordination with local law enforcement is critical.”

Each day that passes without a solution from Congress makes it harder to restart CFATS and adds to the backlog of reviews and inspections that DHS will need to address. More importantly, every day that goes by without the access to the tools that CFATS provides compromises national security. Companies should not be forced to go it alone to combat terrorism.

Congress must live up to its obligation to protect the nation and restore CFATS. It should not take an act of terrorism to make it happen.

Quick Facts

  • The CFATS program supports security at over 3,000 facilities.
  • DHS estimates that security measures at regulated facilities have increased by 60%.
  • Until it expired, 300 individuals per day seeking access to chemical facilities were vetted against FBI’s terrorist database through CFATS.
  • Since the CFATS program lapsed, CISA can’t process new submissions from facilities, meaning the locations and quantities of chemicals of concern may be unknown to DHS and local first responders.
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