Three weeks after her appointment, which came less than 24 hours before Ricardo Rosselló Nevares' resignation as governor became effective, the new director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), Jennifer Storipan, still has to complete her team.
Storipan spoke with Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced on August 15, when she coordinated a call with Douglas Hoelscher, director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
Under the Rosselló Nevares administration, PRFAA's former executive director, Carlos Mercader, a close ally of the former governor, said his office's top priority was to promote statehood for the island.
PRFAA served as the headquarters for the Equality Commission, created by Rosselló Nevares. Vázquez Garced, however, said the debate over statehood will not be a priority for her government.
In an interview Thursday, Storipan - who worked for former Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski (Maryland) and Democratic Congresswoman Joyce Beatty (Ohio) - said her attention to the statehood debate will depend on the governor's guidelines and public policy.
Vázquez Garced, Storipan told El Nuevo Día, has made it an urgent priority to ensure approval of the $12 billion in Medicaid funds for Puerto Rico that a U.S. House committee proposed for the next four federal fiscal years, and which will be subject to new oversight after corruption charges involving the Health Insurance Administration (PRHIA).
She has also stressed the importance of ensuring the disbursement of disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico after the catastrophe caused by Hurricane María.
PRFAA's director currently has three key vacancies in her office, which has a budget of $2.85 million for this fiscal year. She has to appoint a deputy director, a person in charge of Government Affairs - the position she held - and a Communications director.
Storipan is the second PRFAA director who is not Puerto Rican and the first official who does not speak Spanish.
Who do you report to?
-Philippe Mesa (Public Policy director) has been the liaison. I hope to work with Zoé Laboy once she takes office as Chief of Staff (on Monday).
Who recruited you to PRFAA?
-Carlos Mercader (former executive director) and Laws García (former deputy director). That was in June 2018.
Laws García resigned because he did not want to be linked to the values of Ricardo Rosselló Nevares's government. You were appointed less than 24 hours before Rosselló's resignation became effective. Why did you accept the position?
-It is an honor for me to work for the people of Puerto Rico. The issues are interesting, challenging and there is a great need in general... I wanted to continue serving in this role because the needs are there.
Do you speak Spanish?
-No. I get the mail in Spanish and I have been able to read it, work with my team here, which is fully bilingual. To make sure I understand, I use Google Translate.
There are some mayors who may not speak English. And this office has been a liaison for them to communicate with the federal government. How are you going to be able to communicate with them?
-Most of my team is fully bilingual and they have been wonderful in assisting me. Not being able to speak Spanish is something I hope to fix in the future. I understand the importance of that.
You might be seen as a continuation of Rosselló Nevares' administration in Washington. Are you in contact with Mercader or lobbyist Manny Ortiz, who are close to Rosselló?
-I haven't talked to Manny Ortiz. I met Carlos at the airport the other day.
Do you know Commissioner Jenniffer González?” When Mercader was the director, she had a bad relationship with this office.
-I hope to work with her. When I was the director of Government Affairs I had a line of communication with her office´s chief of staff. The governor has had very productive meetings with the Commissioner.
According to Commissioner González, the credibility of Puerto Rico's government in Washington is "zero". Do you agree?
-After talking to the governor, I know that one of her top priorities is to restore credibility and increase transparency before Congress leaders and the administration.
Is the credibility of Puerto Rico's government zero?
-We have work on...
The relationship between La Fortaleza and the White House is broken, mainly because of former Governor Rosselló Nevares and President Trump. You've been a Democratic official and activist. Can you repair that relationship?
-I think I can. Those members of Congress I've worked with have been guided by bipartisan principles. I have experience in bipartisan work.
The governor says she wants to visit Washington in September and stressed she wants to meet with President Trump. Have you asked for that interview?
-We haven't made that request yet. We're working on the schedule. We want to meet with all the agencies and officials related to recovery funds.