Puerto Rico Government Considers Eliminating Statistical Agency

The Government of Puerto Rico (PR) is considering a bill (PS-809) [in Spanish] that would eliminate the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS), a move that—if approved—would remove the many protections in place for the independent production of statistics for the Caribbean island.

Introduced January 19, PS-809 proposes the following:

  1. Replacing the PRIS with the Puerto Rico Statistics Program in the Department of Commerce and Economic Development

  2. Transferring oversight of all PRIS activities from its director to the secretary of the Department of Commerce and Economic Development, effectively eliminating the director position

  3. Directing the secretary to outsource all statistical functions currently performed by PRIS, as well as by the Puerto Rico Planning Board and the Government Development Bank

  4. Eliminating the PRIS Board of Directors

The proposal is alarming because PRIS is an independent government agency of the executive branch with many protections in place to ensure its impartial collection, production, and communication of statistical data. The director position, for example—currently held by Mario Marazzi—is a 10-year appointment by the PRIS Board of Directors. Marazzi has full control over PRIS operations to ensure the independence of its data.

The ASA, with guidance from its Puerto Rico Chapter and other members, has coordinated with leaders of Ciencia Puerto Rico to post a petition to Governor Ricardo Rosselló and the legislature urging a stronger PRIS, instead of its dismantling. The ASA asks its members and others to sign the petition.

ASA President Lisa LaVange, after learning about the precarious funding and independence of PRIS and inadequate estimates of deaths due to Hurricane Maria, wrote to Rosselló expressing sympathy for the Puerto Rican people and offering the ASA’s help. Regarding PRIS, LaVange stated the following:

Government statistics play a powerful role in any democracy. They empower the economy, serve the health and welfare of its citizens, improve governance, and inform decisions and policies in the public and private sector, among many other vital functions. Government statistics are also fundamental to evidence-based policymaking, the engagement of which is on a rapid rise in local, state, and federal governments. Government statistics are produced through rigorous scientific processes and analyses performed by experts that can function independently…. Accurate, objective, and timely statistics will help you and all PR residents.

LaVange also noted disappointment in her letter that a soon-to-be-established panel to revise the number of deaths due to Hurricane Maria does not require independent experts in statistical analysis be involved.

LaVange’s comments echoed those of a US Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico that wrote in 2016 “that the government of Puerto Rico consider appropriating a level of funding to the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics that is commensurate with its important responsibilities … [and] that the Institute of Statistics continue to protect its independence.”

Early indications there would be a bill to eliminate PRIS were surfacing as LaVange sent her letter.

In addition to signing the petition to save PRIS, read the two articles about the Puerto Rico developments in the February issue of Significance magazine (one being posted online February 2 here.)