The term quango or QUANGO (less often QuANGO or QANGO) is a (normally pejorative) description of an organisation to which a government has devolved power, but which is still partly controlled and/or financed by government bodies. The term was originally a shortening of "Quasi-NGO", where NGO is the standard acronym for a non-government organization, and in this sense was used neutrally.
In its pejorative use, it has been widely applied to public bodies of various kinds, and a variety of backronyms have been used to make the term consistent with this expanded use. The most popular have been "Quasi-autonomous national government organization" and "Quasi-autonomous non-government organization", often with the acronym modified to "qango" or "QANGO".
As its original name suggests, a quango is a hybrid form of organization, with elements of both non-government organizations (NGOs) and public sector bodies. The term is most often applied in the United Kingdom and, to a lesser degree, Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and other English-speaking countries. In the UK, the term quango covers different "arm's-length" government bodies, including "non-departmental public bodies" (NDPBs), non-ministerial government departments, and executive agencies.
In 2006, there were 832 quangos in the Republic of Ireland – 482 at national and 350 at local level – with a total of 5,784 individual appointees and a combined annual budget of €13 billion.
The Irish majority party, Fine Gael, had promised to eliminate 145 quangos should they be the governing party in the 2016 election. Since coming to power they have reduced the overall number of quangos by 17. This reduction also included agencies which the former government had already planned to remove.
Despite a 'commitment' from the 1979 Conservative party to curb the growth of non-departmental bodies, their numbers grew rapidly through their time in power throughout the 1980s. One UK example is the Forestry Commission, which is a non-ministerial government department responsible for forestry in England.
The Cabinet Office 2009 report on non-departmental public bodies found that there are 766 NDPBs sponsored by the UK government. The number has been falling: There was 827 in 2007 and 790 in 2008. The number of NDPBs has fallen by over 10% since 1997. Staffing and expenditure of NDPBs have increased. They employed 111,000 people in 2009 and spent £46.5 billion, of which £38.4 billion was directly funded by the Government.
Use of the term quango is less common in the United States although many US bodies, including Government Sponsored Enterprises, operate in the same fashion. However, Paul Krugman has stated that the US Federal Reserve is, effectively, "what the British call a quango... Its complex structure divides power between the federal government and the private banks that are its members, and in effect gives substantial autonomy to a governing board of long-term appointees."
Other U.S.-based organizations that fit the original definition of quangos include Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac).
On the broader definition now used in the United Kingdom, there are hundreds of federal agencies that might be classed as quangos.
The term "quasi non-governmental organisation" was created in 1967 by Alan Pifer of the US-based Carnegie Foundation, in an essay on the independence and accountability of public-funded bodies that are incorporated in the private sector. This essay got the attention of David Howell, a Conservative M.P. in Britain, who then organized an Anglo-American project with Pifer, to examine the pros and cons of such enterprises. The lengthy term was shortened to the acronym QUANGO (later lowercased quango) by a British participant to the joint project, Anthony Barker, during one of the conferences on the subject.
It describes an ostensibly non-governmental organisation performing governmental functions, often in receipt of funding or other support from government, By contrast, traditional NGOs mostly get their donations or funds from the public and other organisations that support their cause.
An essential feature of a quango in the original definition was that it should not be a formal part of the state structure. The term was then extended to apply to a range of organisations, such as executive agencies providing (from 1988) health, education and other services. Particularly in the UK, this occurred in a polemical atmosphere in which it was alleged that proliferation of such bodies was undesirable and should be reversed. In this context, the original acronym was often replaced by a backronym spelt out as "quasi-autonomous national government organisation, and often rendered as 'qango' This spawned the related acronym qualgo, a 'quasi-autonomous local government organisation'. "London Waste Regulation Authority, the first 'qualgo' formed after abolition of the Greater London Council...The new body is a joint board of councilors from London boroughs.
The less contentious term non-departmental public body (NDPB) is often employed to identify numerous organisations with devolved governmental responsibilities. Examples in the United Kingdom include those engaged in the regulation of various commercial and service sectors, such as the Water Services Regulation Authority.
The UK government's definition in 1997 of a non-departmental public body or quango was:
A body which has a role in the processes of national government, but is not a government department or part of one, and which accordingly operates to a greater or lesser extent at arm's length from Ministers.
The Times has accused quangos of bureaucratic waste and excess. In 2005, Dan Lewis, author of The Essential Guide to Quangos, claimed that the UK had 529 quangos, many of which were useless and duplicated the work of others.
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