Republicans criticize O’Malley on homeland security office

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Republicans are criticizing Gov. Martin O’Malley for doing away with a Cabinet-level homeland security post and reducing the office from eight to two people.

O’Malley aides say the governor simply restructured the office in a move that key county emergency officials say streamlines homeland security efforts and makes them more efficient.

‘‘If people are saying the structure is not effective, I’d disagree with them,” said Vernon R. Herron, director of public safety and homeland security for Prince George’s County. ‘‘I haven’t noticed any difference at all. If anything, it’s been enhanced.”

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) created a Maryland Homeland Security Office to coordinate efforts of the state and local emergency services. The office was staffed with eight people, including a director, a deputy director, a spokesman, a military liaison to the National Guard, a liaison to police departments, two University of Maryland law school students and a secretary.

Republicans have criticized O’Malley (D) for retaining only two positions — a homeland security adviser and a special assistant.

‘‘I have no idea why the administration is putting such a low priority on homeland security,” said Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley (R-Frederick). ‘‘This was one of the issues that he claimed as a defining issue as a mayor.”

Homeland security remains a top priority, said O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese.

‘‘It’s a reorganization of the office to streamline operations and communications with the first responder agencies and the governor,” Abbruzzese said. ‘‘I can’t speak for the Republicans ... but maybe they feel that a bigger, more bureaucratic government is somehow better than a streamlined, more efficient government that Governor O’Malley has put in place.”

One of O’Malley’s first moves after being elected was naming Andrew Lauland, his homeland security adviser in Baltimore, as his new adviser in Annapolis.

O’Malley eliminated the jobs of the deputy director, the spokesman and the law students.

‘‘The office was too small to need a PIO and a deputy director, and if we need legal advice, we can turn to the Attorney General’s Office or the state counsel’s office,” Abbruzzese said.

The military liaison was kept, but now works out of the Maryland National Guard office in Baltimore instead of Annapolis, Abbruzzese said. The police liaison was transferred to a task force on crime control and prevention.

The new structure allows for more direct involvement by the governor and his Cabinet, Lauland said.

‘‘It’s a bit misleading [for critics] to say this is how the structure has to be and now it’s a smaller structure than before,” he said. ‘‘It’s actually a different structure.”

A Joint Executive Committee of emergency officials and Cabinet secretaries helps set policies and reviews plans, Lauland said.

Maryland State Police and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency handle most of the day-to-day homeland security work at the state level, Lauland said.

The new structure makes it easier for county emergency officials to work with, said Gordon A. Aoyagi, Montgomery County’s homeland security director.

‘‘In terms of communications and coordination with Montgomery County there hasn’t been a beat missed,” Aoyagi said. ‘‘There’s been very good cooperation, lots of access and lots of communications. In fact, in many ways, under the old office, it was kind of a double-headed hydra. You had to talk to the homeland security advisers and you had to talk to MEMA. Now it’s clear if there’s grant issues, we talk directly to MEMA, and if there’s policy issues, we talk to the homeland security adviser.”

Aoyagi and Herron said they met with Lauland before O’Malley’s inauguration and talk with him often.

Charles County Emergency Preparedness Director Donald McGuire said his complaint is that any homeland security office should be set up with input from county officials.

But McGuire said he has no problems with how O’Malley has restructured the office.

‘‘Why did we have to have two separate agencies [MEMA and a state homeland security office] when we really needed just one?” McGuire said. ‘‘I hope they maintain it that way. If it’s going to remain Andy Lauland and just a couple of people in that office, that’s fine. You don’t need to have a whole separate office.”

E-mail C. Benjamin Ford at