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Proposal Would Create County Homeland Security Department

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 2004; Page GZ03

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) is proposing a major reorganization of the county's emergency response services, including the creation of a Department of Homeland Security.

The legislation, introduced at this week's County Council meeting, is designed to coordinate Montgomery's response to threats of terrorism, which have been increasing in the country since Sept. 11, 2001.

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"A new department with overall responsibility for terrorism prevention will boost the security of our homeland and ensure more coordination within county government," Duncan said in a statement. "It is essential that we remain vigilant in the face of potential dangers."

The proposal would for the first time centralize a number of different programs dealing with homeland security under a single department. It would be responsible for emergency management, disaster preparedness, security of county facilities, public health emergency preparedness, community outreach and obtaining federal grants for homeland security.

Those efforts are now mainly directed by other departments: police; fire and rescue; public works and transportation; health and human services; and the sheriff's office.

County Council President Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) said he expects the council to pass the measure but expressed concern about the cost of the restructuring.

"The first issue out of the gate is going to be: Are we spending additional dollars, and will it be a significant amount?" he said.

But council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) said he does not think the new agency is needed because the county is already winning accolades for its homeland security efforts. "We should be very cautious about creating a new bureaucracy," Andrews said. "I think the evidence is we are doing a very good job in this area. . . . Once you create an agency it becomes very hard to get rid of when you don't need it."

But Andrews said he could support creating the position of homeland security director, which would be charged with coordinating security efforts among existing departments.

Duncan's office said the proposal, which would take effect Jan. 1 if approved, would not cause any additional cost in the coming year. "This is just a reorganization of existing functions," said Donna Bigler, a spokeswoman for Duncan.

But Bigler said that in the future the department will have its own budget and a separate appropriation -- a move she said might result in more funds devoted to homeland security.

County officials said they believe the centralization will save money in the long run because it will increase federal grants to the county. "It's important to have a single point of authority applying to these grants," Silverman said.

The Department of Homeland Security will also be responsible for managing the Public Safety Communications Center and the Office of Emergency Management. In addition, the department will be responsible for coordinating security efforts with the state and federal governments.

County officials said the increased attention to homeland security is necessary in the face of growing terrorism threats since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"It is imperative that we do all we can to coordinate our homeland security efforts throughout the county," council member Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty), chairman of the council's homeland security committee, said in a statement.

Council members said they expected the creation of the department to be one of the less contentious issues discussed this year.

"I think it makes a lot of sense," Silverman said. "I don't think it's that radical a proposal."

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Oct. 5 at a site yet to be determined.


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