Organizations ask governor not to dismantle Puerto Rico Statistics Institute
SAN JUAN – On Monday, 47 stateside and international scientific organizations and professional societies sent a letter to Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló urging him to keep the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS) autonomous and independent.
PRIS is an independent government agency of the executive branch that has an executive director named to 10-year terms and a board composed by experts to ensure its impartial collection, production and communication of statistical data.
Earlier this year, Puerto Rico’s legislature was considering a proposal that would dismantle PRIS by reorganizing its statistical functions and placing them under the of Economic Development and Commerce Department (DDEC by its Spanish initials). The plan also requires the DDEC to outsource statistical functions performed by PRIS. Rosselló is expected to present the latest reorganization plan in the coming days, which the legislature must approve by June 30.
Led by the American Statistical Association (ASA) and transmitted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the letter stresses the importance of PRIS continuing to operate independently of political influences, bureaucracy and conflicts of interest.
“At this critical historical juncture, Puerto Rico needs accurate, objective and timely statistics. Government statistics empower the economy, serve the health and welfare of citizens, improve governance and inform decisions and policies in the public and private sectors, 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. To address the challenges posed by its decade-long economic recession and the devastation of back-to-back hurricanes, Puerto Rico must chart its path toward sustainable recovery using reputable and reliable data and statistical methods,” the letter reads.
In a release, the ASA said experts believe “inaccurate and dated statistical systems underlie many of the problems Puerto Rico is now facing.” It used as an example that after hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the island, Puerto Rico lacked the appropriate statistical methods to accurately measure the related deaths.
“Despite multiple reports that indicate more than 1,000 people died because of Hurricane Maria, the official government death toll remains at 64. Recently, PRIS approved a series of methods to measure the death toll from future natural disasters in Puerto Rico, as well as to produce the final estimates of the Hurricane Maria death toll in Puerto Rico,” the release says.
It further defended PRIS’s independence by saying that despite the institute being “underfunded for years and must constantly deal with resistance from other local agencies to collaborate, its accomplishments have helped the commonwealth in many ways. For example, its work helped identify Medicaid fraud, saving taxpayers $10 million annually, and revealed a statistical bias in the formulas used to compensate doctors in Puerto Rico under Medicare that cost the local economy about $120 million annually. The agency also played a crucial role in correcting the Consumer Price Index, which the government had been overestimating between 2001 and 2006, causing Puerto Ricans to unnecessarily pay more for everyday items such as gasoline.”
The letter reminds Rosselló of a petition asking Puerto Rico’s political leaders to reconsider the reorganization plans for PRIS, which has been signed by more than 3,000 people, including former National Institutes of Health Director and Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus and president of the National Academy of Sciences Bruce Alberts.