Gov. Ricardo Rosselló hit the ground running Monday, effecting six executive orders the same day he was sworn into his post as Puerto Rico’s first executive.
“Over the next 100 days we will put in place specific plans aimed at regaining the confidence of the financial markets and the federal government,” he said in his first statement as governor.
“We will act immediately to ensure that the payment of pensions to the most vulnerable will not be interrupted,” he said, while adding he is convinced he can manage the government by doing more with less and being more efficient in services provided to the people.
In his first order — 2017-001 — Rosselló declared a state of fiscal emergency for the government, ordering all public agencies to take the necessary measures to cut operating expenses without affecting services provided directly to the population, such as health, safety and wellbeing.
“The measures to control expenses are the first to face the fiscal crisis and should not be seen as the only ones to be implemented,” according to order 2017-001. “Each agency must examine their operations to identify and immediately implement additional measures to save and reduce expenses.”
The measure also calls for a hiring freeze without written authorization from the executive director of the Office of Management and Budget. Furthermore, no agency will be allowed to create new job posts, unless approved by the OMB.
Also included in the order is the elimination of 20 percent of trust positions at every government agency, and a 10 percent reduction in operating expenses at every public agency for the remainder of Fiscal 2017, which ends June 30.
The order also bans the use of official credit cards paid for with government funds, or the use public money to cover travel outside Puerto Rico for public employees, except if they are “essential to carry out official duties and they have been previously authorized by the Chief of Staff.”
Public funds may also not be used to pay for mobile phones or other technological devices, and government agencies have been ordered to begin canceling service contracts.
The six-page order also calls for requiring public agencies to cut back on energy and water services, implementing measures to reduce consumption by five percent on energy and by five percent each fiscal year through Fiscal 2020 on water.
The measure also calls for cutting back on external contracts.
The second order — 2017-002 — the new governor signed seeks to create a “Center for Federal Opportunities,” to maximize available economic resources to “energize the economy.”
“Although Puerto Rico has a high potential for federal funds and benefits for which it can compete, the actions of the previous administration have put the government in a state of high-risk, limiting access to federal funds — those received through budget formulas as well as competitively,” the order stated. “At present, we’re ranked 49 out of 51 U.S. jurisdictions competing for federal funds.”
Puerto Rico currently competes in 214 out of 841 federal programs, missing out on more than $1 billion, the order noted. The newly created center will serve as a liaison between the central government, municipalities, federal agencies, nonprofits, the private sector, co-ops, public private partnerships and the Legislature to land funds.
Order 2017-003 calls for activating the dispositions of Law 76-2000, to develop projects that support new or improved infrastructure to provide better services in energy, water, transportation, solid waste management, and other areas that are in a state of disrepair.
Similarly, order 2017-004 calls for the creation of an inter-agency group to oversee critical infrastructure projects for the 21st century, under Law 76-2000. This group would follow the criteria established under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, to get such projects approved.
Order 2017-004 orders government agencies to apply a new methodology to develop their budgets through the zero-based budgeting approach, to eliminate inefficient services and inadequate or obsolete programs. The strategy seeks to get the government to avoid spending more than it collects, limiting an increase in public debt and guaranteeing sustainability on the short- and long-term.
The zero-based budgeting approach will begin in Fiscal 2018 and subsequently. The order requires the OMB to adopt regulations and procedures to get the strategy going, as well as provide technical support to all government agencies.
The last order of the batch calls for implementing uniform public policy to guarantee equal pay for equal work across the government. According to Puerto Rico Department of Human Resources statistics, in 2013, women represented 43 percent of the island’s labor force.
The measure seeks correct “unfair and inequitable salary situations and work conditions for women” in government.
The six orders are available for download at the State Department’s website.