What does security at chemical facilities have to do with labor relations? Not much, but lawmakers are considering adding a provision to the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) that would connect them.
The addition would require a union representative to be present at any meetings regarding chemical security, notes former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Paul Rosenzweig in his Lawfare blog.
CFATS were created after 9/11 to ensure that American chemical facilities are adequately protected from terrorism attacks. It is not a workplace safety or working conditions program that is overseen by other parts of the U.S. government.
The current CFATS bill in Congress would give DHS permanent authority to regulate security at chemical plants. The problem with the new bill, Rosenzweig notes, is that it adds unnecessary regulations to an already cumbersome program.
Instead of following the designed purpose for protecting chemical facilities, CFATS regulations have been overly burdensome to facilities. The standards offer little flexibility, hindering businesses from tailoring security measures to fit their unique needs and circumstances.
Other problems flow from the DHS’s poor execution of the program. The inspection process lags far behind its intended schedule, causing problems for all areas of the program. In 2013, the Government Accountability Office estimated that even if DHS increased its approval speed tenfold, “it could take another seven to nine years” before DHS could “complete reviews on the approximately 3,120 plans in its queue.”
To address these concerns, CFATS needs to return to the original idea of presenting a risk-based approach to chemical security. Risk assessments should be reformed to accurately determine how risky a facility really is and how to most cost-effectively deal with these risks. More regulations would not help this happen.
Instead, partnerships should be built between the private sector and public that would enhance innovation and foster idea sharing. These partnerships would also provide more security to the plants since the private companies know their buildings the best.
Rosenzweig’s article highlights the immediate concerns that lawmakers should have when reauthorizing CFATS. Rather than expanding the burdensome rules and regulations by adding a requirement for labor union representation in the CFATS process, Congress should add more flexibility to ensure that companies can take the most common-sense steps to secure their facilities.