Jenniffer González, Resident Commissioner in Washington DC, said yesterday that the role of a federal coordinator for reconstruction - a position she proposed - could be assumed by a senior White House official who can serve as liaison between federal government offices.
However, she warned that when she explained her vision regarding that position to acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, last Thursday, he did not have an answer on whether the position will be created or not.
At a press conference in San Juan, after a meeting with directors of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Regional Office, González said that there should be a person who can expedite, process and advance the reconstruction process in federal and local agencies.
Although La Fortaleza Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira rejected the idea last Friday, Commissioner González said that she spoke with Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares about her proposal on Saturday.
The governor said yesterday that he would support the appointment of a coordinator who works to "help and facilitate" the disbursement of disaster relief funds, a stance shared by the director of the Central Recovery and Reconstruction Office (COR3) Omar Marrero.
However, Rosselló Nevares warned that if what is being discussed is the position of a controller, similar to the Oversight Board, he rejects the idea because of the additional bureaucracy it would entail.
González separated her idea from that of the draft executive order that has circulated and recommends that President Donald Trump appoints a coordinator or a reconstruction czar under the Department of Homeland Security.
For González, a federal official in charge of the reconstruction must have experience in disaster recovery or at the White House.
"I respect those who think differently, but anyone who says that there is no need for federal coordination ... does not see what is happening on the island," González said.
The federal government has been considering the idea of a coordinator for reconstruction –with jurisdiction over disbursements from FEMA, housing and other agencies- for months.
According to Javier Ortiz – close to Trump and who was a member of his transition team –other voices think that the coordination can be done through the Oversight Board that oversees the island´s public finances and has a revitalization officer.
González described the position as a person who can pressure to help the funds arrive, “I am talking about a person who can coordinate resources between federal agencies and who has the authority to make things happen (at a federal and state level)," she said, explaining the idea she brought to Mulvaney for the first time.
The White House did not comment on the issue.
The Commissioner recalled that she previously asked the White House to reactivate the White House Interagency Working Group on Puerto Rico that former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama had established. However, Trump has not created a similar structure in the White House.
"There has to be a person in charge of the public policy on Puerto Rico," she said.
González also reaffirmed that at last Thursday's meeting with Mulvaney she defended the allocation of an additional $ 600 million in nutrition assistance and a waiver from FEMA matching funds requirements on debris removal and other emergency measures.
Mulvaney, who is also the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has opposed to those initiatives, which are part of the bill approved by the House Democratic majority to mitigate recent natural disasters.
Reporter Gloria Ruiz Kuilan collaborated with this story.