What did you set out to do in the Obama Administration as Director of intergovernmental Affairs, Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce?
I was appointed by President Barack Obama as the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce on May 04, 2009 and served all eight years of his administration till the final day, January 20, 2017 at 12:00 PM. I promoted President Obama’s and the Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker’s “Open for Business” agenda with state, local, tribal and territorial elected officials, and their governmental associations across the country. With 12 distinct bureaus, the Department of Commerce is one of the most diverse and eclectic departments in the Federal Administration. It oversees international trade deals (International Trade Administration); the nation’s economic accounts through the Bureau of Economic Analysis – BEA (GDP, Consumer goods sales, etc.); the weather, fish and ocean environment through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); the U.S. Census Bureau; the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO); the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA); the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), which oversees export control and treaty compliance systems, promoting continued U.S. strategic technology leadership and a strong defense industrial base; the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) – broadband, TV and radio airwaves, spectrum); the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST – weights and measures, manufacturing innovation, cyber innovation, etc.); and others. As Commerce’s lead person with elected and appointed officials across the country, I was also a member of the administration-wide White House Intergovernmental Affairs team.
Shortly after my appointment at Commerce, I created and led a team of 12 interagency intergovernmental affairs directors covering the breadth of bureaus and issues at the U.S. Department of Commerce interfacing with governors, mayors and other elected and appointed officials in the 50 states, five U.S. territories and tribal governments on behalf of the Secretary. I developed intergovernmental affairs strategies for a number of the President’s key initiatives to include the Gulf Oil Spill; Work Skills Development Initiative; National Export Initiative (NEI); NEI Look South Initiative (geared to Mexico and Latin America); NEI Next, the Commerce/International Trade Administration’s Brookings Institution Metropolitan Export Initiative; SelectUSA and ManufacturingUSA; the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) trade agreements outreach.
Throughout 2010 I coordinated Commerce’s intergovernmental affairs response during the BP Gulf Oil spill with the governors and County/Parish, City elected and appointed officials in the five states affected by the oil spill (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida) and continued working on the economic restoration of the region after Congress passed the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act) in July 2012, establishing the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council
I was a member of the President Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico, an administration-wide task force, representing the Department of Commerce for the entire eight years of the administration. During that time, I focused on assisting the Puerto Rico government and the municipal governments in the island on economic development, job skills development, job creation, international trade opportunities and foreign direct investments into the island in order to grow its economy. I coordinated a Department of Commerce – Economic Development Summit in San Juan, Puerto Rico as part of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico attended by over 200 Puerto Rican business leaders. Hosted a White House Business Roundtable with the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce during President Obama’s historic trip to Puerto Rico in June 2011.
Through the task force, I led an effort to modernize Puerto Rico’s national economic accounts, bringing Puerto Rico from a system that calculates a Gross National Product (GNP) to the Gold Standard of economic accounts, a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) used by the Federal Government, all 50 States and the other four U.S. Territories. Unfortunately, this effort was never implemented as the island debt became the primary focus of the Governors’ office.
Also, through the Task Force, the Department of Commerce assisted Puerto Rico in securing a foreign direct investment with the German company Lufthansa Technik to build an aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility in Puerto Rico, investing $20 million into its construction and operation and creating hundreds of jobs in the island, as well as being a key component of Puerto Rico’s aerospace innovation and manufacturing economic cluster and supply chain.
What were your biggest challenges and accomplishments, and the things left undone you wish could have been seen through?
Working for any Presidential Administration is quite an accomplishment for anyone’s career, from either political party. However, working in the Administration of the first African-American to become President of the United States continues to be a huge honor and highlight of my professional career. Additionally, meeting and working with so many great colleagues across the Obama Administration has been a wonderful opportunity.
I believe that one of my biggest accomplishments, structurally, was leaving the Department of Commerce with a solid foundation with the creation of the department-wide Intergovernmental Affairs Team as well as Tribal/Native American Affairs Intergovernmental Affairs Team.
Both a challenge and sense of accomplishment on a personal level, as someone born in Puerto Rico and still very much in tune with my culture and people, my eight years serving the President of his Task Force on Puerto Rico working with three different governors, their administrations and mayors from the 78 municipalities in the island on their economic issues was very important to me as Puerto Rico has been struggling in that arena for some time. The moment of most personal pride for me during my eight years in the Obama Administration was seeing Air Force One landing in San Juan International Airport during President Obama’s historic visit to the island (the first sitting U.S. President to visit since John F. Kennedy in 1961). As one of the coordinators of the overall Presidential trip, I coordinated a White House Business Council Roundtable on the day of his arrival with 37 of Puerto Rico’s top business leaders, and on the following day coordinated and hosted a Department of Commerce Economic Development Summit attended by over 200 leaders in government, business, academic and non-profit sectors.
The completion of the 2010 U.S. Decennial Census was a monumental challenge (it was the first Census after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina), but it was quite an accomplishment as we brought it in on-time and under budget, returning $2 Billion back to the U.S. Treasury Department.
The BP/Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill was a monumental challenge and source of continuous frustration. As the Department of Commerce oversees the weather and fish and ocean environment through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it was our responsibility – and our call – to shut down the Gulf of Mexico to recreational and commercial fishing (about 50% of seafood sold in U.S. comes from the Gulf). Additionally, we were the ones indicating where the oil spill was spreading to, and one two occasions made the call to shut down the operations due to incoming hurricane threats. More than 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the gulf and most of the five states which border it over an 87-day period, making it the biggest oil spill in U.S. history to date.
How does it feel to come back to the Marxe School as both a professor and an alumnus?
Baruch has a very special place in my life, since graduating from the Baruch College Marxe School in 2006 through the National Urban Fellows program, I have not entirely left the sphere of influence of the school. During my time as Director of the Washington, DC office of the NALEO Educational Fund, I hosted a National Urban Fellow from Baruch in 2007-08. Once I joined President Obama’s Administration, I began working with Baruch in the creation of the School’s DC internship Program to create a real-life, hands-on internship experiences for Marxe students. During my eight years at Commerce I mentored about a dozen Baruch students and several CUNY Rogowski Interns at the Department of Commerce. Shortly after my tenure in the Obama Administration ended, Dr. David Birdsell and the members of the Marxe School Dean’s Advisory Board invited and admitted me in to the board as one of its members. Throughout this year, I have been in discussions with Baruch, Dean Birdsell, members of the Advisory Board, Dr. Michael Feller, and Dr. Jerry Mitchell (both professors of mine when I attended Baruch) about joining the faculty as an adjunct professor.
You’ve had a long, storied career that has involved you in the fight for social and racial justice. What is it you hope to do here at the Marxe School to follow on this legacy?
I am believer of the concept of servant leadership. My career has always focused on helping others develop themselves to be contributing members of our society, be it working in youth leadership development in Miami and South Florida, working with elected officials through the non-profit sector advocating for civil rights, participation in the American political process, services to youth and the community as a whole, and working for elected officials at the city, county, state and federal levels to ensure that “good government” is provided to all. Teaching at Baruch is a natural extension of being a servant leader. Helping young people realize their potential is as much a legacy as an inheritance, as I hope to secure the great work that they do in the future. As the saying goes “you reap what you sow.”
What classes are you teaching this year?
This year I am teaching two courses. [In the fall 2018] semester I am teaching PAF 3010 Policy and Politics, which has been very exciting. In the Spring 2019 Semester I will be teaching PAF 9160 – Public and Non-Profit Management to the National Urban Fellows class of 2019. This particular class will be one of mixed feelings for me as it will be with the last NUF class to do their educational portion at Baruch before they move to another institution. It was through NUF that I became part of the Baruch family. Nevertheless, I am part of the family now and don’t intend on leaving.