The creation of the Advisory Council for the Management of Federal Programs in Puerto Rico represents a wise step to advance, once and for all, vital projects that will pave the way for the island´s reconstruction.
The central government must ensure that this moment of change, integrating new resources, leads to a performance of excellence that allows regaining trust with federal authorities.
The creation of the local council coincides with the appointment of Admiral Peter J. Brown as Federal Reconstruction Coordinator for Puerto Rico. The White House´s repeated criticism of the island's government points to the mismanagement of federal funds allocated after Hurricane María.
Brown has previously worked in Puerto Rico. He has served as Commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District, Southeast United States and the Caribbean, that´s why his appointment creates good expectations before the need for the release of federal funds intended for the island´s essential projects.
The Council was created through an executive order signed yesterday by the governor. Its members have extensive knowledge of the federal government's operations and they have reaffirmed their commitment to transparency which is encouraging at a time when thousands of families affected by the 2017 and the January 7 earthquake and its aftershocks desperately need a safe roof.
The team includes former U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, between 2017 and 2018, Rosa Emilia Rodríguez and former federal judge José Antonio Fusté with a three-decade career in the judiciary. La Fortaleza announced they will not receive a salary or allowances for their services. Attorney and former assistant comptroller Nilda Añeses Loperena; municipal affairs advisor Roberto Rivera and the designated Housing Secretary Luis Fernández Trinchet are also part of the Council.
Committing to the proper management of federal reconstruction funds as well as strict oversight to achieve sound management are essential and it is expected that the experience of the team in these areas will ensure compliance, which has been lacking in agencies whose operations are critical, especially after the emergencies triggered by extreme natural phenomena in Puerto Rico since 2017.
Oversight by the Council -focused on following strict federal guidelines on the use of funds allocated to the Housing Department through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Community Development Disaster Response (CDBG-DR) programs- must reflect results that translate into swiftly deploying crews to build or repair residences, as well as public infrastructure such as bridges and roads.
Progress should come if the state response to meeting federal requirements on the use of funds, as well as communication with federal authorities, improves. In this sense, there are high expectations due to the fact that Brown has traveled around the island and speaks Spanish. Meanwhile, part of the group of advisors have worked in the federal government for decades and know its bureaucratic procedures well.
The new advisors can help renew the morale of public employees and stimulate confidence for good performance. They should also act to discourage interests unrelated to legitimate public services such as political interests.
At the beginning of this new year, progress in the island's recovery will be a factor in undermining the climate of despair that affects thousands of families who still lack a safe roof. Therefore, oversight by external advisors can make a significant difference in advancing projects that promote the well-being of the entire population.