In fiscal year 2016, California was awarded $41,651,585,188 in federal contracts. Maine received $1,522,250,964. Puerto Rico, with almost triple Maine’s population, received $7,782,122. (All figures from USASpending.gov).
The federal government initiates some 450,000 contracts each year. One third, on average, are within Washington, D.C. The remaining two thirds of the contracts are awarded to companies in the states and territories. As the chart above shows, the amount of money going to various locations from federal procurement contracts is very uneven. But Puerto Rico receives fewer contracts than states with similar or smaller populations.
Part of this is the fact that Puerto Rico’s businesses are typically smaller. The federal government has a number of programs that give small businesses help in getting government contracts:
- Women Owned Small Business
- Small Disadvantaged Business
- Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business
- Historically Underutilized Business Zone
However, small businesses often have trouble getting through the procurement process, which can be lengthy and costly. Small businesses may also find it difficult or unaffordable to meet government oversight requirements. A state like Maine may face some of these challenges, too.
There is one big difference between Puerto Rico and all the states, however. Each state is represented by two senators and at least one congressperson. These people have the responsibility to represent their states’ interests, and to make all possible efforts to support the people living in their states.
Puerto Rico has no senators. The territory does have a representative in Congress, the Resident Commissioner, who can serve on committees and introduce bills but not vote on bills before the House of Representatives. Congress has plenary power — that is, complete control — over all U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico.
This means that decisions for Puerto Rico are made by people who have been elected to represent their own states, not Puerto Rico.
With no senators and only a non-voting representative in the House, Puerto Rico is at a disadvantage in competing for federal contracts. Maine has two Senators and two Representatives who serve as liasons to federal government decionmakers awarding contracts. That’s four representatives – with voting power – to Puerto Rico’s one represenntative. And in a representative government, that appears to have consequences.