Good afternoon and welcome to the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status’s public hearing in Washington, D.C. My name is Tom Perrelli, and I am the Associate Attorney General at the Department of Justice. But I am here today also as co-chair for the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status. And as co-chair, I am honored to be here with all of you.
As many of you know, it has been a priority of President Obama since day one that our government be open, transparent and accountable. That’s why as part of the process we have undertaken with the task force on Puerto Rico’s status, everyone around this table agreed that we needed to hold public hearings.
Let me know take a moment to acknowledge our task force members. If each of the task force members could introduce themselves and their respective agencies, we’ll start on the right.
As some of you may know, the task force traveled to Puerto Rico in early March for its first public hearing. We participated in roundtable discussions with community leaders and academics, and had a public hearing in which members of the public were able to directly address the task force. We viewed that public hearing as a listening session for the federal officials on the task force -- to hear what Puerto Ricans thought the federal government can and should be doing to work with Puerto Rico. That was a momentous first step – as it was the first time the people of Puerto Rico were given the opportunity to directly engage the task force – and we appreciated the honesty and openness of those that attended that public hearing.
We’re now continuing our listening process with our session here in D.C. We want to learn what is important to you in this dialogue and to hear any comments and concrete suggestions you have for the federal government and specifically for this task force. I know that I speak for the whole task force when I say that we are enthusiastic about a chance to talk and engage with you. This hearing is an important next step in the process of working together to make real progress in many different areas that impact the lives of Puerto Ricans.
The President’s Task Force was originally created by President Bill Clinton to examine the options for Puerto Rico’s future political status and relationship with the United States. As you know, President Obama has expanded the mandate of the task force through an Executive Order not only to examine and report on the status question but also to provide advice and recommendations on policies that cover job creation, education, health care, clean energy, and economic development. This is a big task, and we know that we need to work hand in hand with you to resolve these types of issues. And that is why we are here today: to continue that process and to hear from you about specific ideas and recommendations.
I know we will dedicate some time later to a discussion of Puerto Rico’s status, but I did want to touch on it now as well. The President strongly believes that the status question is a significant one. He also believes that Puerto Rico’s status must be based on self-determination by the people of Puerto Rico. And we on the task force are here with open minds on this issue. I look forward to hearing from you on this issue today.
Today’s program begins with three breakout sessions: Strengthening Community Services, Building Capacity and Sustainability; Economic Development and Financial Fitness; and Safety and Security.
After these breakout sessions, we will return all together here for presentations and discussion on Vieques and status. We will then close this hearing with public statements, during which you in the audience will again have the opportunity to address the task force on any of the topics that we have covered today. We are going to do our best to hear as many people and as many perspectives as possible. But for anyone who does not get the chance to speak today, you may also submit your views and comments to the White House e-mail address PuertoRico@who.eop.gov. We need to hear from you.
So again, thank you for coming to the task force’s second public hearing, and thank you in advance for what I hope will be an honest and constructive dialogue. We hope to come away with many ideas that we, working with you, can turn into concrete and specific policies and recommendations for the President and Congress.