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Op-Ed: A modest FEAT to help with P.R.’s fiscal woes

Author Jeff Q. Díaz is a public affairs professional.

With the looming fiscal crisis overwhelming the government of Puerto Rico, many proposals are persistently brought forward, with the sincere aim of taking small steps towards sensible short and long-term solutions.

Putting the usual gridlock politics aside, my intent with this blog entry is to put forward a proposition, that if adopted by the current administration, it can support some (but not all) of the overall efforts to address the financial shortages and continue to provide essential services.

Back in 2011, the report from the President’ Obama’s designated Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status[1] made various recommendations to address many of the economic and social challenges faced by the government of Puerto Rico.

Among all the recommendations presented in the report, two were made as a cost effective approach to facilitate the implementation of diverse federal programs and projects.

First, it sought to enhance institutional capacity in using federal funds and programs, and second, expanding collaborations with federal agencies and stakeholders in the island.

It was acknowledged that diverse issues related to federal funding awards and management directly impacted many areas, such as education, housing, community development, workforce development, health, and public security.

Also, several references were made suggesting efforts to increase communication with federal agencies and those federal agencies improve collaboration amongst themselves.

One of the proposed approaches to address those challenges was the use of the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) Mobility Program, managed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

The IPA Mobility Program is designed to facilitate the movement of employees, for short periods of time, when this movement serves a sound public purpose. Mobility assignments may be used to achieve objectives such as:

  • Strengthening the management capabilities of federal agencies, state, local and Indian tribal governments, and other eligible organizations;
  • Assisting the transfer and use of new technologies and approaches to solving governmental problems;
  • Facilitating an effective means of involving state and local officials in developing and implementing federal policies and programs; and,
  • Providing program and developmental experience, which will enhance the assignee’s performance in his or her regular job.

It should be noted that according to the OPM the IPA Mobility Program is seldom utilized by federal agencies and state and local governments, colleges and universities, Indian tribal governments, federally funded research and development centers, and other eligible organizations.

Those Task Force recommendations were not far fetched but were seldom implemented for reasons that are unknown to me.

Considering the imperious nature of the current crisis and the prominent administrative hiatus, my proposal reexamines the recommendations of the aforementioned report, suggesting the creation of what I have coined as a Federal Employee Assistance Task-Force (FEAT).

This is a volunteer core of interested federal employees who could be detailed within state, local and higher education institutions in Puerto Rico in order to “bring about some institutional capacity building and consequently enhanced performance and change.”

Each entity can enter into an agreement with diverse federal agencies, allowing for interested federal employees to volunteer to a temporary assignment. Through FEAT federal employees can provide “on-the-ground assistance by working full-time with Puerto Rico for specified time periods over several years; assisting Puerto Rican officials with navigating and harmonizing existing federal programs; obligating Federal investments strategically; addressing information technology infrastructure needs; and addressing performance barriers,” among other tasks that may represent an avoided cost to the local unit.

To adopt a proposal like FEAT provides immediate benefits to Puerto Rico jurisdictions and organizations by possibly bringing public servants who, like in my case, have previously served at the state, local and higher education sectors.

An intrinsic quality of using an experienced staff is to maintain important continuity of government, considering the potential threat of government closure.

It should be noted that the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), outlines that IPA agreements should be pursued by the Oversight Board to serve as operational staff. (See Title I Section 2123 (e))

Federal employees currently assigned to Puerto Rico (or within the continental United States), who have an emotional or patriotic connection with the island, an assignment with FEAT would represent an opportunity to underwrite valuable time and effort to continue their public service, particularly for their beloved island.  But for many to serve under such program would mean a moral duty to bring back the “Island of Enchantment” from the brink of disaster.

The dictionary defines feat as “an achievement that requires great courage, skill, or strength.”

I am sure that many feds are willing to undertake such a feat.


[1] Report by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status (2011) HERE.


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