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Bipartisan bill seeks to close gaps in data collection system for US territories

The bipartisan H.R. 8593, titled "Territories Statistics Collection Equity Act," is cosponsored by Rep. Aumua Amata Radewagen (R-American Samoa), Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-CNMI), Rep. Michael San Nicolas (D-Guam), Rep. Jenniffer González Colón, (R-Puerto Rico) and Rep. Stacey E. Plaskett (D-USVI).

The bill's authors said U.S. territories are disadvantaged by the unavailability of current data on population, economy, labor force and agriculture.

The territorial delegates, who have no voting power in Congress, said the lack of parity in available data related to the territories impedes government and advocacy groups from making informed decisions for residents.

They said improving data collection regarding the territories is critical for developing a deeper understanding of existing concerns and identifying new policy opportunities.

The proposed Territories Statistics Collection Equity Act would direct the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy to develop a plan to collect and publish statistics regarding the U.S. territories in the same manner as states. The policy council allows the Office of Management and Budget to receive direct participation from the principal statistical agencies and facilitates coordination across numerous federal statistical systems.

Specifically, the Territories Statistics Collection Equity Act requires the ISCP to do the following:

  • Within six months of the bill’s enactment, publish a list and assessment of existing federal statistical programs that collect and publish data for the U.S. territories comparable to the states, with explanations of any absence of a comparable program for the territories, impediments to data collection in the territories, and the level of government participation required.

  • Submit a plan to collect and publish statistics regarding territories within one year of the bill’s enactment. The plan will include recommendations for including the territories in these programs and cost estimates for implementing necessary changes.

  • Submit a report of the plan and its implementation within two years of the bill’s enactment, and every year thereafter until the plan is fully implemented.

  • In coordination with appropriate federal agencies, fully implement the plan within four years of the bill’s enactment.

In April, Grijalva and the territorial delegates sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office requesting a review of the data collection gaps related to the U.S. territories.

“Policymakers rely on data to make informed decisions to improve our communities,” Grijalva said, “Gaps in data for certain populations, which have been exacerbated by natural disasters and Covid-19, are especially glaring for the U.S. territories. This legislation would identify where and why these gaps exist and put a plan in place to make sure the territories are included in major data collection activities moving forward. This is an important step in making sure residents’ experiences and needs do not continue to be overlooked.”

Amata said better data can be an enormous benefit to decision-making in the territories, Congress and federal agencies, especially in accurately identifying all federal direct programs and grant assistance funds.

“We can learn from clearer statistics ranging from economics to health care, and I appreciate Chairman Grijalva’s leadership in rectifying this need," she added.

While saying "good policy depends on good data," Sablan lamented that federal data collection regularly leaves out the Marianas and other U.S. insular areas.

"The Territories Statistics Collection Equity Act helps correct that problem. The Act recognizes the insular areas are part of America and our people and our lives should be counted along with our fellow Americans," he said. "Then, with timely, accurate numbers on insular economies, employment, incomes, and the full range of data the federal government collects, policymakers at the federal and local level will make more informed decisions. They will be able to see whether policies and programs are working – and so will the public, the people we work for.”

González-Colón said Puerto Rico’s exclusion and disparate treatment under federal statistical programs hinder efforts to accurately analyze conditions on the Island and develop informed policy decisions.

"That’s why I’ve led efforts in Congress to comprehensively address this issue, including by introducing the Puerto Rico Data Collection Equality Act and securing appropriations report language directing federal agencies to take steps to collect and publish statistics for the U.S. territories on the same terms as states,” González-Colón said.

Plaskett said data gaps affect important funding opportunities in the U.S. Virgin Islands. “Currently, U.S. territories like the Virgin Islands are excluded or under-included in important data sets and statistics collected by agencies of the U.S. government," she said. "The lack of such information has a negative impact on providing services to people's lives - children, elders and the most vulnerable in our society. The federal government must correct this and do right by Americans living in U.S. territories by seeing that these gaps are closed. This legislation will take important steps to do that.”

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