Efforts to Dismantle Puerto Rico Statistics Agency Paused, Challenges Remain

A broad reorganization bill by the government of Puerto Rico (PR) containing a provision that would essentially  eliminate the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS) and remove the many protections in place for the independent production of statistics for the commonwealth has been withdrawn, with a new bill expected to be submitted later this year. Whether the proposal to eliminate PRIS will again be included remains to be seen.

The reaction to the proposal to eliminate PRIS was strong and swift. Nearly 3,000 people signed onto a petition to Puerto Rico leaders that was organized in part by the ASA. The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico wrote Governor Ricardo Rosselló urging PRIS be retained and strengthened as an independent and standalone entity. In the US Congress, 15 members of the House of Representatives opposed the proposal, and Senator Elizabeth Warren also wrote, expressing her concern for the proposal.

Scientific American published an op-ed by a Ciencia Puerto Rico official detailing the many reasons dismantling PRIS would be counterproductive to Puerto Rico. Science also took note, publishing “Critics Blast Move to Dismember Puerto Rico’s Statistical Agency.” Finally, ASA President Lisa LaVange sent letters to Gov. Rosselló, the PR Senate President, and the PR House Speaker.

Meanwhile, PRIS faces an ongoing challenge to its independence after Gov. Rosselló dismissed four scientists from the PRIS board without due process in summer 2017. Just as it is important for a statistical agency to be independent for its data to be perceived as objective so should its advisory board be independent. A Caribbean Business article further explains the issue and the case for an independent board. The case was referred to Puerto Rico courts, and a hearing has been scheduled for February 27.

The ASA—in collaboration with leaders of Ciencia Puerto Rico, the ASA Puerto Rico Chapter, and others—will continue to monitor the situation closely. In the meantime, the ASA urges readers to add their name to the petition urging a strong and independent statistical agency for Puerto Rico.