Washington - Although Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares rejected the idea of appointing a federal coordinator for the island´s reconstruction process, Resident Commissioner in Washington Jenniffer González endorsed the proposal that the White House has been considering for months.
"It is very difficult to oppose to the idea if we want the funds to be released fast," said yesterday José “Quiquito” Meléndez, a New Progressive Party (PNP) representative, based on the idea that if the position is created, it would be a way for the federal government to organize and not a new control over the local government.
However, Commissioner González´s decision to support the creation of a federal recovery “czar" to oversee the disbursement process of tens of billion dollars for the island´s reconstruction surprised the government of Rosselló Nevares. "We already have more limitations and controls" than other jurisdictions, said La Fortaleza Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira, in an interview with Radio Isla.
Commissioner Gonzalez - who had already admitted that the federal government was considering the appointment of a reconstruction coordinator – proposed the idea to the director of Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney, who is also the acting White House Chief of Staff. González made not comments after releasing the statement, neither did the White House.
This week, Rosselló and González sent a joint communication to the OMB requesting for the early disbursement of $ 8,221 billion in Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR). In addition, Rosselló repeated his objections to federal bureaucracy and asked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) - which has the island listed as a high-risk jurisdiction – to control disbursements for permanent works, not his government.
A history of differences
Meléndez thinks that Commissioner González may have more updated information than Rosselló since she met met with Mulvaney on Thursday.
Officials in Washington often question the lack of consensus on the island. The creation of a coordinator is at least the third federal public policy issue related to Puerto Rico that places Rosselló and González on opposite sides have differences.
Previously, González disagreed with the governor in his efforts to achieve a lower tax rate, at least temporarily, for Controlled Foreign Corporations (CFCs) and in his request for a waiver from Cabotage Rules for Puerto Rico. González only favors a partial waiver - to transport natural gas - from the regulations that requires that to ship goods between U.S. and Puerto Rican ports to be transported U.S.-flagged ships.
In December, El Nuevo Día reported that amid doubts over funds management, a draft executive order was prepared to create the position of federal reconstruction coordinator.
According to that document, the coordinator - appointed by President Trump and under the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security - would organize the response to Hurricanes Irma and María in Puerto Rico and the distribution of federal funds. The draft said that the coordinator should serve as the liaison of the Executive Branch with Congress, the government of Puerto Rico and local governments, the private sector and community leaders.
However, a source close to the conversations in the White House said that some federal officials think that any new initiative regarding the coordination of reconstruction funds can be done through the Oversight Board, which oversees the financial decisions of the Government of Puerto Rico.
After Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, in 2005, President George W. Bush appointed Donald Powell as "reconstruction czar." In 1998, Bill Clinton created a recovery task force group for Hurricane Georges.
At a time when they look for transparency in hiring processes related to reconstruction, Rodrigo Mases, president of the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association said that he believes that the idea of creating the position of coordinator is related to promote a swift disbursement of funds “that we all want.”
For Independent senator Juan Dalmau, however, whether they appoint one or 10 coordinators, this is another expression of “the colonial problem.”