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October 21, 2002
Volume 80, Number 42
CENEAR 80 42 p. 14
ISSN 0009-2347


GOVERNMENT

WATCHDOG SLAMS TERRORISM STUDY
Justice's report on U.S. chemical industry vulnerability falls short

JEFF JOHNSON

The Department of Justice failed to comply with a law requiring it to determine how vulnerable chemical companies are to terrorist attacks, a General Accounting Office investigation finds (GAO-03-24R).

GAO examined the department's compliance with a 1999 law that required it to study chemical plant vulnerability to terrorism and criminal activities and to recommend ways to make the industry more secure. An interim report was due in August 2000, and a final one, in August 2002.

Justice's completion of an interim report was quietly announced last May, buried in a legal filing in response to litigation over the delay. The interim report was released only to Congress, however, and Justice forbade Congress from making it public, citing national security. Consequently, the GAO report is the only public discussion of Justice's assessment.

The interim study is just 12 pages long, GAO says, examines only 11 companies, and "does not assess overall security at chemical facilities." Rather than a national review, the study is based on observations that Justice officials made while overseeing a trial of a federal methodology to assess vulnerability at a few specific plants.

The Justice report was sought by chemical companies, environmental groups, and some in Congress. The 1999 legislation also resulted in worst-case chemical accident scenarios being removed from the Internet (C&EN, March 18, page 8).

Although Justice argues that it lacks funds to finalize the study, GAO counters that the department's funding request was inadequate. Justice will not complete the final report unless Congress provides $7 million for it, GAO says. Justice has requested $3 million for next year's appropriation.



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