President Obama issued his latest in a long line of executive orders yesterday. The order, titled “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security,” is rather inaptly named. Rather than improving upon existing chemical security programs, like the often criticized Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), the order simply throws layers of federal bureaucracy and oversight at the problem.
Created in 2007, CFATS prescribes a regulatory framework for facilities that produce, handle, or store high-risk chemicals in the U.S. The program was intended to offer a flexible, risk-based security program to prevent abuse and theft of high-risk chemicals by terrorists and other bad actors. The reality, however, has been much different. As Heritage explained last year:
While a degree of government oversight over chemical security is warranted, the federal CFATS regulations have proved exceedingly complicated and overly burdensome on the private sector. Such excessive regulation inhibits the chemical sector, an integral component of the U.S. economy, from doing business and stymies economic growth.… Rather than continuing flawed and misguided regulations, the [Department of Homeland Security] and Congress should work with the private sector to develop commonsense, market-conscious policy solutions for U.S. chemical security.
As highlighted by the White House yesterday, CFATS is just one of seven different chemical safety and security programs and frameworks administered by the federal government. Nevertheless, today’s executive order asserted that “additional measures can be taken by the executive departments and agencies (agencies) with regulatory authority to further improve chemical facility safety and security.”
Overall, the executive order appears to put forth a highly federal-centric approach. Indeed, most of the planning and action called for in the executive order is to be handled by a newly created Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group, which would consist entirely of federal agency representatives. Worse yet, one of the first actions to be taken by the working group is to assess within 90 days whether the CFATS program can be expanded.
What is needed is not additional maddening layers of government but rather more room for creative, cost-effective private-sector solutions. The government should be taking a step back, not a giant plunge.