LARGO – Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley said Wednesday that if he is elected governor he will consolidate state homeland security agencies in one Prince George’s County office as a first step in curing what he calls lack of “leadership and vision” in the department.
“The frustrating thing for citizens is we talk about homeland security, but we don’t act on it,” he said. “It’s not rocket science.”
O’Malley’s plan would bring into a single office a slew of agencies that are currently scattered around the state – from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency in Reisterstown, to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention in Baltimore, to the homeland security business incubator in Annapolis.
“We need to consolidate these offices, locate them centrally in Prince George’s County and make real strides to improve homeland security,” said O’Malley, a Democrat.
Henry P. Fawell, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, said that he had no official response to the mayor’s remarks, but suggested it is still too early for O’Malley to be making such comments.
“He is the mayor of Baltimore and he should focus on cleaning up his failing education system and murder rates before he lectures other counties on public safety,” Fawell said.
Lt. Gov Michael S. Steele was in the audience during O’Malley’s remarks at the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable luncheon but was not asked for a rebuttal, nor did he offer one. Steele addressed the group before O’Malley spoke.
Domestic security has reemerged a hot issue recently, both nationally and in Maryland, as both Republicans and Democrats have attacked the proposed sale of port operations in six states to a company controlled by the United Arab Emirates.
Ehrlich, a Republican, has expressed concern over the prospect of a government-owned company gaining control of the Seagirt Marine Terminal in the Port of Baltimore.
O’Malley, co-chair of the United States Conference of Mayors Homeland Security Task Force, has become a national figure on the issue by repeatedly lambasting President Bush on homeland security issues and, most recently, the port deal.
He reiterated his stance Wednesday, saying he was “dead-set opposed to turning (the port’s operations) over to a foreign government.” He floated the ideas of using National Guard troops to assist in the port’s security operations and enacting a clause in the contract to end the state’s relationship with the current stevedore company, Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co.
The consolidation of the state agencies would benefit homeland security operations in Maryland, O’Malley said, by fostering better communication and taking advantage of all the federal homeland security money available.
The Washington Post reported that between 2002 and 2004, the Washington area did not spend $120 million of the $145 million available in federal grants. That 17 percent spending rate was the lowest in the nation.
“We’re in the nation’s capital and we were already subjected to terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, but we’re still dead last in using federal homeland security dollars,” O’Malley said. “We can’t afford to leave money on the table, we’re too vulnerable.”
Federal funds could go towards installing a closed circuit television network at metro stations and in neighborhoods to help local police forces curb drug activity and other crime. It would similar to the one used in London to identify the subway bombers of July 7, O’Malley said
Prince George’s was chosen for the site for his proposed homeland security office, O’Malley said, because it is between the state’s urban areas.
“A consolidated homeland security office in Prince George’s would create a needed link between Baltimore, Washington and Annapolis,” he said. “Prince George’s is an untapped asset that could grow if we located the office here.”
O’Malley’s running mate, Delegate Anthony G. Brown, D-Prince George’s, agreed that the county’s economy could benefit greatly from the move. “There’s a lot of potential in Prince George’s County, but a lot of it has gone overlooked,” he said. “The location is great, the planning is great, but where are we in execution?”