Efforts to Dismantle Puerto Rico Statistics Agency Resume

A broad reorganization plan has been filed 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.

The government plan was previously introduced before Puerto Rico’s legislative bodies, but— as we noted February 26—it was withdrawn because of opposition to many of its proposals. Now the new plan—which still would see PRIS dismantled—must be rejected by either chamber of the legislature by March 31 or it will be implicitly approved, after which enabling legislation would need to be introduced and approved by April 15 for the changes to take effect.

When eliminating PRIS was first proposed, critical reaction was strong and swift. Almost 3,000 people signed a petition, in part organized by the ASA, asking Puerto Rico’s political leaders to reconsider. The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico wrote Gov. Ricardo Rosselló urging PRIS to 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 Sen. Elizabeth Warren also wrote, expressing her concern.

Scientific American published an op-ed by Mónica I. Feliú-Mójer, director of communications and science outreach for Ciencia Puerto Rico, explaining why dismantling PRIS would be a disaster. “Critics Blast Move to Dismember Puerto Rico’s Statistical Agency,” reported Science. And ASA President Lisa LaVange sent letters to Gov. Rosselló, the PR Senate president, and the PR house speaker, protesting the plan.

The dismantling of PRIS comes after a previous challenge to its independence, when Gov. Rosselló dismissed four scientists from its board without due process in summer 2017. If a statistical agency needs to be independent for its data to be perceived as objective, then its advisory board needs to be independent, too. (A Caribbean Business article further explains the issue and the case for an independent board.) The case was referred to Puerto Rico courts, which ruled on March 8 in PRIS’s favorordering the governor to not interfere with its functioning and the restitution of the scientists to the board.

The ASA—in collaboration with leaders of Ciencia Puerto Rico, the ASA Puerto Rico Chapter, and others—will continue to strongly oppose the elimination of PRIS. The ASA urges readers to add their name to the petition urging a strong and independent statistical agency for Puerto Rico.