A woman (finally) to lead DTOP for first time in agency’s history

By John McPhaul

Governor-elect Pedro Pierluisi made new appointments to his cabinet on Monday, designating Juan Carlos Blanco as executive director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and naming engineer Manuel Laboy Rivera as executive director of the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience (COR3 by its Spanish initials).

Also appointed was Eileen M. Vélez Vega as secretary of the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP by its Spanish acronym). It was also announced that Rosana Aguilar Zapata will remain as executive director of the Highways and Transportation Authority (HTA), while Joel Pizá Batiz will continue as executive director of the Ports Authority.

The governor-elect said the appointments “represent the path for execution and results that I want to bring in this administration.”

“I continue to make these appointments after a conscientious and judicious process to ensure that I have people prepared and motivated to provide a government of excellence to our people,” Pierluisi said. “Today’s nominations are important to establish the priorities of our government, to ensure a sustainable infrastructure and to guarantee that we take advantage of all the federal funds that have been assigned to Puerto Rico for the reconstruction of our environment. I feel fortunate that my administration will have so many professionals trained and motivated to serve our people.”

In announcing the appointment of Blanco to head the OMB, Pierluisi said he is a lawyer and business adviser with more than 20 years of experience in the private sector and in government. Blanco served as chief of staff during the administration of Gov. Luis Fortuño and has been part of the government platform teams in 2008, 2012 and 2020. In the private sector, he practiced at prestigious law firms in New York and Washington, D.C., advising clients on issues related to financing, investment funds and financial regulation. He worked for several years in commercial banking in strategic planning, treasury and commercial credit.

Blanco completed his bachelor’s degree in economics with a dual concentration in finance and public administration at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he also obtained his Juris Doctor.

Laboy Rivera will be at COR3 as executive director. Pierluisi took the opportunity to highlight his work as Economic Development and Commerce secretary and predict his success in rebuilding and revitalizing Puerto Rico’s socio-economic development by directing COR3. As DDEC secretary he has had a special focus on technology, innovation, export in key sectors and multiple reforms to promote competitiveness and support the growth of the private sector.

Laboy Rivera has 23 years of work experience in manufacturing, chemical production, life sciences, construction, public utilities, export of services, renewable energy, infrastructure, technology and project management. A member of the Engineers and Surveyors Association of Puerto Rico, he has a master’s degree in business administration from Ana G. Méndez University and a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Mayagüez Campus.

The governor-elect also introduced Vélez Vega as the appointed secretary of DTOP and thanked her for her availability to work for Puerto Rico. Vélez Vega is a member of the Engineers and Surveyors Association of Puerto Rico, of the American Association of Civil Engineers, of the Committee of the Transportation Research Board, and of the Society of Women Engineers’ board of directors. She has over 18 years of experience in the management, design and construction of airfield paving, as well as in project management, design and development of technical paving specifications.

Since 2006, Vélez Vega has worked for a prestigious design and planning firm based in North Carolina, and since her return to Puerto Rico in 2014, she has served as its vice president of business development on the island. Prior to that, she worked for four years for the United States Army Corps of Engineers as a civil engineer and as a NASA fellow at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

Vélez Vega has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from UPR Mayagüez and a master’s degree from Mississippi State University.

In addition to her vast experience and passion, her accomplishments have been honored by multiple professional organizations and she has been recognized for her community work at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Working directly with the DTOP will be Aguilar Zapata, who remains the executive director of the HTA. She is a professional with over 17 years of experience in permitting, administration, project management, planning and construction.

A member of the Engineers and Surveyors Association of Puerto Rico, Aguilar Zapata has worked in private companies and has been a public servant in various administrations, both in the state and local government, always in the area of transportation. As head of the HTA since 2019, she has managed the authority’s capital improvement program, thereby helping to boost the island construction industry and contributing to the economic development of Puerto Rico and to job creation. She managed to increase the obligation of federal funds for the benefit of the people of Puerto Rico by more than 40 percent.

Aguilar Zapata has a magna cum laude baccalaureate in civil engineering from UPR Mayagüez, and was an Eisenhower Fellowship recipient.

Pierluisi also presented Pizá Batiz, an attorney who will continue to be in charge at the Ports Authority.

Before taking the helm at Ports, Pizá Batiz served as general legal adviser and deputy secretary of the Ports Authority’s board of directors. Before that he was a legislative adviser to Sen. Miguel Romero Lugo and worked as a lawyer in his private practice in matters of labor law, contracts, appellate law and aviation law.

Pizá Batiz was a fellow at the Court of Appeals under Judge Gerardo Flores García, and at the Office of the Justice Secretary of Puerto Rico. He also served as a professor of aviation law at the Aeronautical School of the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico.

He obtained his Juris Doctor, magna cum laude, from the UPR Law School, and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science with a concentration in biomedicine from Inter-American University’s Metro Campus.

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