Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics Threatened

The final report of the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico expressed concerns about the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics.

The report pointed out the importance of accurate data in government decision making, and listed the many ways in which Puerto Rico is simply left out of U.S. federal government data collection.”In its numerous meetings with federal agencies, the Task Force heard that the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics,” the report said, “has emerged as a highly professional, autonomous, and apolitical organization that is bringing greater transparency to economic, financial and fiscal conditions on the island.”

The report recommended — in addition to suggesting that federal data collection include Puerto Rico — that the Institute be better funded. Emphasizing the importance of keeping the Institute independent, the report asked that the Institute receive funds which would allow it not only to continue the work of collecting and analyzing data, but that there be additional funding to help the Institute publish findings in English as well as Spanish.

Instead, a bill was introduced last month that would dismantle the Institute and transfer its work to the territory’s Department of Commerce, which would outsource and oversee the work.

The American Statistical Association described this proposal as “alarming” and collected more than 1,800 signatures on a petition opposing the legislation.

Science Magazine interviewed the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, on the subject. Rossello disagreed with the statisticians, saying that the new proposal would “streamline the process.”

Directors of the Institute are appointed by an independent Board for 10 year terms, rather than being appointed by the political party in power and replaced when a new party comes in. “Once PRIS falls under a government agency, it is no longer autonomous,” Science Magazine quoted a highly regarded applied statistician as saying.

Scientific American also spoke out against the bill, saying that, “[t]he organization has consistently improved the efficiency and quality of public services on the island—and in the face of crushing debt and hurricane devastation, it’s more crucial than ever.”

“The elimination of PRIS is being touted as a cost-saving measure, a good thing for Puerto Rico’s bankrupt government,” says the article. “This makes no sense. PRIS has consistently reduced government costs, and improved the efficiency and quality of public services in Puerto Rico.”

Several members of Congress have sent a letter protesting the action.to the Chief Statistician of the Office of Management and Budget in Washington.

The Institute is, according to scientists and statisticians across the nation, the equivalent of the U.S. Census Bureau.

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