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. One UK example is the Forestry Commission, which is a non-ministerial government department responsible for forestry in England. The term has spawned the derivative quangocrat; the Taxpayers' Alliance faulted a majority of them for not making declarations of political activity.
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 EUR13 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 unelected bodies, their numbers grew rapidly through their time in power throughout the 80s.
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.
Since the coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats was formed in May 2010, numerous NDPBs have been abolished under Conservative plans to reduce the overall budget deficit by reducing the size of the public sector. As of the end of July 2010, the government had abolished at least 80 NDPBs and warned many others that they faced mergers or deep cuts. In September 2010, The Telegraph published a leaked Cabinet Office list suggesting that a further 94 could be abolished, while four would be privatised and 129 merged. In August 2012, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the government was on course to abolish 204 public bodies by 2015, and said this would create a net saving of at least £2.6 billion.
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, while mainstream NGOs mostly get their donations or funds from the public and other organisations that support their cause. Numerous quangos were created from the 1980s onwards. Examples in the United Kingdom include those engaged in the regulation of various commercial and service sectors, such as the Water Services Regulation Authority.
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. 'Qualgo' stands for 'quasi-autonomous local government organization', the municipal equivalent of a quango, in which members are appointed by other councilors".
The less contentious term non-departmental public body (NDPB) is often employed to identify numerous organisations with devolved governmental responsibilities. 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.
Quangos are filled with appointed members. This means, unlike governmental bodies, members of quangos do not need to seek re-election. This is seen as a major criticism in liberal democracy as members of quangos have not been legitimised by the electorate, but have governmental power and influence. They also do not have the same level of accountability as elected officials, worsened by the lack of media coverage of their work.