A push for regional security

O'Malley says Baltimore should be included in D.C.-area funding

January 13, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley called yesterday for the boundaries of the Washington-area homeland security zone to be expanded to include Baltimore -- a suggestion that was echoed by new District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty at the first post-election meeting of the chief executives of Maryland, Virginia and the district.

The National Capital Region consists of Washington, three Virginia counties and Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland. But O'Malley said the Department of Homeland Security needs to include Baltimore because the city he has led for the past seven years would be in line to provide aid in the event of an attack in Washington. He said Richmond, Va., should also be added.

"Were there to be an event in the District of Columbia, there's no doubt the city of Richmond and city of Baltimore would feel the stress of that," O'Malley said. "I think there is some merit ... to incorporate the resources of neighboring cities and jurisdictions into our response and recovery plan."

The outgoing mayor has been a frequent critic of federal grant formulas that send homeland security money to unlikely terrorist targets, including rural areas. But when the homeland security agency announced this month that it would set aside about $400 million -- more than half the available dollars -- to high-risk urban areas such as the Washington region, Baltimore was not included.

The National Capital Region received $18.2 million for transit security to protect rail and bus systems, while Baltimore, which has extensive mass transit links with Washington, got nothing.

Baltimore will be permitted to compete with 38 other cities for the remaining $336 million made available through the Urban Areas Security Initiative.

Last year, the city was awarded $9.6 million as part of the program, down from $15.8 million in 2004.

O'Malley criticized the city's allocation last year, saying Baltimore needed additional grant money to prepare for a local terrorist attack. Now he is offering a different argument: that because Baltimore would likely be called on to aid the capital region in an attack, the city should be included as part of the high-risk area.

Fenty said he supported the idea, though Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine was noncommittal when pressed by a reporter. He said the proposal was "one we've agreed will be on a list of topics" to discuss.

Any changes would have to be approved by Congress.

Yesterday's meeting was a first for the three recently elected leaders, though they crossed paths during the fall campaign. And it was the first time since the early 1990s that the executives from Maryland, Virginia and Washington have all been Democrats.

Standing shoulder to shoulder in the United Communications Center in Southeast Washington, they pledged to continue working together on issues such as air quality, transportation, the Chesapeake Bay and tourism.

"We consider ourselves the three amigos because we have so many similarities," said Kaine, noting that they had all served as mayors. (Kaine was mayor of Richmond.)

O'Malley used the forum to again criticize the federal government's homeland security funding.

"We're challenged at the state and local levels to articulate our goals when our national government is itself reluctant to articulate those goals for fear of then becoming responsible for funding them either in part of in full," he said.

On Jan. 5, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced the government would alter how it chooses to distribute anti-terrorism money to major U.S. cities, moving away from a process that had subjected the agency to ridicule.

Other regions deemed high-risk were New York and northern New Jersey; Los Angeles; Chicago; the San Francisco Bay area; and Houston. They will be allowed to spend as much as 25 percent of their grants for personnel and operations.

Baltimore's inclusion in the top tier could have little impact, however. Though the high-risk cities will receive about $30 million more than last year, their percentage of the funding was slated to remain about the same.

The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for distributing about $1.7 billion in state and local grants this year. Programs focus on areas such as medical response, law enforcement training and infrastructure protection.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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