Efficiency will open the door to reconstruction

Knowing the processes and meeting the requirements surrounding the release of reconstruction funds for Puerto Rico must be at the core of the local government's administrative priorities.

To do otherwise is to miss the historic opportunity to revitalize infrastructure, lay the ground for economic growth, and build confidence in the U.S. government and investment markets in Puerto Rico.

There is still a lot of work ahead for the island to direct the use of this significant federal funding injection to address the damage caused by recent disasters. Federal Reconstruction Coordinator Peter Brown is visiting the island this week to see preparedness efforts for the hurricane season first hand. This visit should help the administration demonstrate it´s willing and able to fully implement projects that are essential for the well-being of the people of Puerto Rico.

The federal government has approved at least $89.5 billion for Puerto Rico's recovery following the severe impact of Hurricane María and other emergencies, including the January earthquakes and the COVID-19 pandemic. The wise use of the resources allocated to complete infrastructure improvements without delays is a mission that cannot be postponed and depends on sound and transparent management.

Reversing the reconstruction paralysis requires state agencies and municipalities to improve their performance in line with federal processes. This entails leaving bureaucratic approaches behind, establishing efficient models for organizing tasks, and integrating technological tools that contribute to high-quality execution. This equation includes mechanisms for accurate compliance tracking mechanisms, focused on accountability.

Two years and eight months after the devastation caused by Hurricane María, it is urgent to speed up reconstruction processes for damaged houses. More than 20,000 low-income families have seen their homes affected, and some of them still live there even though roofs are fragile or they just have tarps. A $3.2 billion Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) package was approved to repair damaged houses. However, the local government has not met the federal requirements to direct their work in this area, which is crucial for family safety. In case another hurricane threatens the island in the short term, people affected by natural disasters would have to go to shelters.

The lack of efficient administrative processes and personnel with comprehensive knowledge of federal procedures prevents expediting the approval of the stages of complex projects such as the reconstruction of public buildings, roads, and bridges, as well as energy and drinking water systems.

Public agencies' heads are called upon to give way to efficient execution mechanisms so that the island´s reconstruction can finally become true. There are 8,000 permanent work projects recognized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the agenda. This agency approved 1,659 projects between May and September and plans to approve 70 percent of the projects this year. The plan would include rebuilding schools and improving reservoirs.

Demonstrating systemic progress in meeting requirements contributes to regaining credibility with the U.S. government. It can also open doors to request to ease certain requirements established as a result of fiscal deficiencies and poor management.

Changes marked by defined, transparent, and accountable processes can fully open the doors to Puerto Rico´s reconstruction. These efficiency indicators can give life to the much-needed government re-engineering that would forge a Puerto Rico less vulnerable to natural phenomena and other emergencies. They are the basis for economic stability and sustainable development.