April 23, 2021

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The Two Priorities of the New Secretary of State: Government Transition and Lightening Federal Funds

During the coming weeks, the Secretary of State, Raúl Márquez Hernández, will face two great challenges: leading the transition process of the government of Wanda Vazquez Garced and lighten the disbursement of federal funds to attend the emergency by the COVID-19.

Both efforts were consolidated in Executive Order 2020-067 signed on Friday by the first executive. “We have had a constant claim regarding the Cares Act funds … There is a notion that Puerto Rico is not being efficient, that money is not being disbursed and that it is frozen in the account”, Márquez Hernández acknowledged.

However, it maintained that Puerto Rico is the “sixth or seventh” most efficient jurisdiction in the disbursement of these funds. The government received $ 2.2 billion from Congress to deal with the emergency and about 44% has been disbursed.

The executive order creates the Cares Act task force, which will operate from the State Department and will be tasked with issuing recommendations for the best use of funds. The group will be made up of employees of the Financial Advisory Authority and Fiscal Agency (Aafaf), the Office of Management and Budget (OGP), the Department of Health and the Department of the Treasury, as well as any employee of another agency deemed pertinent. .

“We are going to create what is the ‘road map’ so that agencies can access these funds. I aspire to gather the links of the agencies, guide them around the use of these funds, give them the conditions and assist them in all the projects, ”he said.

Márquez Hernández attributed the delay in the disbursement of funds to several factors, such as the limited resources in the agencies and the complexity of the parameters to use them.

“I want to bring the principle of manufacturing, which is a person specialized in a job, which in this case is Cares funds … And that we help the agencies throughout this project,” he said.

Faced with the reality that many of these funds have an expiration date, he said he hopes the advisory group will be working directly with recipient agencies by the first week of October.

On the other hand, Márquez Hernández did not anticipate major problems with the government transition process despite the fact that it will take place in the midst of the pandemic and that, for the first time, it will be a paper-free process (paperless).

Márquez Hernández explained that prior to his appointment as secretary of state on August 31, the agency’s staff had already begun to work on matters related to the transition, so they are close to approving the regulations. “What we are doing is reinforcing that work that has already been done and we are making it visible that it is carried out paperless”, Said the official.

The secretary indicated that the transition will be paper-free thanks to the development of an application with internal agency resources. He added that the personal liaison with each of the public agencies and corporations has already been identified, who were also trained in the use of the digital tool. “We want it to be an orderly transition and to avoid any kind of controversy and to be a transparent transition. The people of Puerto Rico do not need, at this time, a process run over or that some type of uncertainty is created “, express.

Although the meetings between the outgoing transition committee and the new president’s team will be reduced to a minimum, Márquez Hernández indicated that when the time comes, all security and distancing measures will be followed. “I do not see any greater challenge. The physical space does represent a challenge, due to the fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic, “he said.

The lawyer explained that By October 16, the agencies and corporations must have submitted their reports to the agency. Once the documents are received, the State Department will have until October 31 to evaluate them. If any deficiencies are identified, the agency will be notified for proper rectification or, otherwise, they will receive a certification of compliance.

Despite the fact that Law 197 of 2002 establishes the parameters of the government transition processes, the governor Wanda Vazquez Garced issued Executive Order 2020-067 on Friday that orders the secretaries or heads of agencies, as well as the directors of public government corporations, to comply with all the guidelines entrusted by the secretary of state.

As part of the process, the heads of the departments, as stated in the document, have to detail the situation of the personnel under their charge, numbers of employees, vacancies, plans of each unit, financial situation and investment portfolio. In addition, they will have to submit the Corrective Action Plans required by the Comptroller’s Office and a list of all contracts in force at the time of the transition, as well as copies of the classification and compensation plan, the property inventory and the auctions in process. , among other information.

Along with the Secretary of State, the committee will also include the secretaries of the Interior, Justice, Finance and Transportation and Public Works. There will also be the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OGP), the president of the Government Development Bank (GDB) and the president of the Planning Board.

“The law states that I am the chairman of the transition committee and that the State Department takes the lead. However, I asked the governor to issue an expression (the executive order) so that the government is clear about this procedure, which will probably be the most important that I will carry out within the Department in my brief stay. We are going through the pandemic, somehow the government services were affected, some stopped and I think that, in addition to the typical information that is shared, we must have a government that is working, “he said.

The transition committee, according to the law, is constituted on the fourth working day after the general elections.

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