US to publish its own economic data on Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The U.S. government announced Monday that it will begin to publish economic data on Puerto Rico amid concerns that statistics released by the U.S. territory itself are flawed.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis said it will analyze consumer spending, business investment and trade in goods from 2012 through 2017, as well as in the future. The agency said that the data will be published later this year and that its work could eventually lead to an estimate of Puerto Rico’s gross domestic product.

“For years, Puerto Rico has produced its own estimate of economic activity,” the agency said. “The island, however, suffered devastating damage in 2017 from Hurricane Maria, exacerbating its financial troubles.”

The bureau said Puerto Rico needs a more modern set of statistics that adhere to international economic accounting standards and that could be used to better inform hurricane recovery efforts.

The U.S. government has pledged billions of dollars for such efforts, including $8.2 billion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which said last week that it will impose strict conditions and financial controls given Puerto Rico’s past fiscal irregularities.

The bureau’s announcement comes nearly a year after Puerto Rico tried to merge its Institute of Statistics with another agency amid accusations that the government was trying to manipulate economic data as it struggles to attract investment amid a 12-year recession.

Ron Wasserstein, executive director of the American Statistical Association, said he was concerned by what he called efforts to undermine the institute’s independence, while he praised the bureau’s actions.

“A better understanding of (Puerto Rico’s) economy will help strengthen it,” Wassertstein said.

Joel Viera, a projects manager at Puerto Rico’s Institute of Statistics, said that the Bureau of Economic Analysis also has been helping the agency make methodological changes for the past eight years, but that he did not know when the project will be completed.

“It is very complex and will take some time,” Viera said.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis already produces GDP and other statistics for U.S. territories including Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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