APRIL 10, 2013
The United States has for years been at risk of a bioterrorism attack because the government agency responsible for securing thousands of labs that conduct research with deadly chemicals fails to do its job.
Unbelievable, but true; while the government meddles in areas that it shouldn’t, it fails miserably to fulfill its duties. Critical safety and security risks identified years ago at labs that deal with deadly bioterror germs have been largely ignored by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), leaving the nation dangerously vulnerable to a chemical attack.
There are around 3,500 facilities throughout the country that conduct research with potential bioterror germs and a DHS branch called Infrastructure Security Compliance Division (ISCD) is responsible for assuring that they are secure under a special program known as Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS). This has not happened, according to several federal audits that date back to 2007.
In the latest probe, released just weeks ago, investigators from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, reveal that the DHS has essentially been derelict in its duties. Despite previous reports exposing serious security problems at the facilities, DHS has done little to address the issue, according to the latest GAO report.
In fact federal officials have for years failed to develop national standards for lab design, construction and operation, the GAO says, even though investigators called for the standards more than three years ago. “Since 2007, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Infrastructure Security Compliance Division (ISCD) has assigned about 3,500 high-risk chemical facilities to risk-based tiers under its Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, but it has not fully assessed its approach for doing so,” the report says. “The approach ISCD used to assess risk and make decisions to place facilities in final tiers does not consider all of the elements of consequence, threat, and vulnerability associated with a terrorist attack involving certain chemicals.”
A separate federal audit released months ago also determined that federal officials have failed significantly to detect security and safety violations during actual inspections of bioterror labs. The missed violations include the transfer of anthrax and plague to an unauthorized facility and allowing workers at multiple research labs to remain on the job with expired security risk assessments.
“As a result, there is increased risk of the misuse of select agents and the potential for serious security violations going undetected,” according to that report, which was issued last November by the inspector general at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Investigators recommended the obvious; a revised inspection procedure and the establishment of effective security policies.
This is a dire issue that doesn’t appear to be taken seriously by the feds. After all, facilities that produce, store or use toxic or hazardous chemicals could be used by terrorists to inflict mass casualties in the United States. That’s precisely why a law was passed requiring DHS to regulate and establish security standards for “high-risk chemical facilities.” More than a decade after the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil, it still hasn’t occurred.
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