After outcry, Puerto Rico’s legislature spares statistical agency

Source: Science Magazine

Puerto Rico has backed away from a controversial plan to eliminate a key statistical agency.

Puerto Rico’s legislature last week approved legislation that calls for a sweeping reorganization of one government agency—but only after it eliminated a provision critics feared would gut statistical collection and analysis on the island.

In the reorganization’s crosshairs was the Puerto Rican Institute of Statistics (PRIS), an independent government agency in San Juan. Although PRIS doesn’t collect much data itself, it analyzes the statistics collected by other government agencies, identifies errors, and helps fix methodological problems. Rather than being run by a political appointee, PRIS is overseen by an independent board of directors that appoints CEOs to 10-year terms.

Puerto Rico has long struggled with unreliable statistics, manifested most recently in its dramatic underestimate of deaths caused by Hurricane Maria last fall.

Earlier versions of the reorganization bill proposed bringing PRIS under the control of Puerto Rico’s Department of Economic Development and Commerce. Statistical data collection would have been centralized within that department and then outsourced to the private sector. Governor Ricardo Rosselló told Science in February the reorganization would streamline statistical collection and analysis, as well as encourage the United States to extend its data collection programs to the island.