San Juan, Puerto Rico, Septiembre 16 , 2020 - PR HOY - Capitolio - FOTOS para ilustrar una historia sobre la sesión del Senado. La foto se realizó en el día 184 (MAIERCOLES) del toque de queda total como medida de minimizar la propagación del Coronavirus (COVID-19). EN LA FOTO Thomas Rivera Schatz (presidente del Senado). FOTO POR: [email protected] Ramon "Tonito" Zayas / GFR Media (Ramón "Tonito" Zayas)

Although the highest salary reported by the local Senate is the $13,730 monthly Carmen Feliciano Márquez earns as executive director of the Senate’s Office of Federal, Social, and Economic Affairs in Washington, D.C., there is very little information about this office work and operation cost.

El Nuevo Día made multiple requests in the Senate but was unable to obtain a single document that reflects the work done by this office, which has only one employee: Zoé Rodríguez Rosario, for $4,833 monthly. Annabel Guillén Casañas works in this office as a contractor with legislative consulting contracts totaling between $7,300 and $8,500 since 2018. Before that, she held contracts with the Senate and earned between $9,500 and $10,000 monthly working as an advisor on federal affairs but based in Puerto Rico.

This newspaper tried to get a reaction from Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz through three spokespersons, but none answered the request. A majority party senator, who did not want to be identified, argued that any reaction  should be handled through the Senate president’s office.

Meanwhile, according to sources, resentment grows among Senate angry employees because the legislative president has not defended a single salary of those disclosed Tuesday as requested by an order Judge Anthony Cuevas Ramos issued.

The Senate has published sporadic data on social media about events in this Senate’s office in Washington, D.C., such as the transmission of its opening event, a presentation by Feliciano Márquez to the Lulac organization in May 2019, a meeting of that official with representatives of the poultry industry in February 2019, that the office participated in a visit by students from Guatemala to an event at Georgetown University and the visit of PNP lawmakers to that office in February 2019.

The office opened on April 18, 2018, when Rivera Schatz announced, in an activity that included New Progressive Party figures such as former governors Luis Fortuño and Carlos Romero Barceló, that the entity would be entrusted with collaborating with Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González and former governor Ricardo Rosselló. Feliciano Márquez was a personnel manager when Pierluisi was Resident Commissioner and was a legislative assistant when Fortuño became Washington commissioner.

“Also, to advocate for our mayors and for every Puerto Rican, and thus be present while we bring the message that American citizens residing in Puerto Rico have and deserve the same rights as those living in the 50 states,” Rivera Schatz said during the opening message.

The Senate Office of Federal, Social and Economic Affairs in Washington D.C. was established by Senate Resolution 554, passed by majority vote, and by Popular Democratic Party Rep. Aníbal José Torres on January 8, 2018. According to the document, the office would represent the legislative body before the federal and state governments, keep communication with federal and state Hispanic organizations, only answer to the Senate president and its head would have to submit an annual report to Rivera Schatz on the efforts and achievements of the office.

However, despite its ambitious goal, the Senate has not released those reports which allegedly summarize the work done by that office, neither has it released a justification for the salary of Feliciano Márquez, who earns in one month what a minimum wage employee earns in a year.

Questions also remain about the budget of the office located in the Hall of the States building, with rents ranging from $45 to $75 per square foot, according to this newspaper. The size of the Senate’s office, in Suite 618, is unknown.

El Nuevo Día spoke with two sources familiar with the operations of this office or with the mission that Rivera Schatz had originally established for the Senate office in the U.S. capital. One of the sources indicated that the Senate leader expected the island’s political status debate to be more advanced in the U.S. capital this term and anticipated that the Senate office would be key in assisting the members of the Equality Committee in that effort.

The office, the source stressed, was also created anticipating that relations between the Senate president and former Governor Rosselló would cool off at some point, so the Senate president did not want to only rely on the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) in Washington.

Meanwhile, Alfonso Aguilar, who resigned from the Equality Committee in February, told El Nuevo Día that his only contact with the Senate office was in the context of his participation in the group.

“In terms of the daily work of the office, I’m not very familiar. I understand that their focus was to advance legislation and allocations of federal funds in the (federal) House and Senate that would benefit Puerto Rico. Other than that, I can’t tell you more because I didn’t participate in their efforts. It was something parallel to PRFAA,” he said.

When asked if spending public funds on an office that he described as a parallel effort to PRFAA was justified, Aguilar answered he did not want to get into a controversy.