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Quango is an acronym used especially in the United Kingdom and the Ireland. Quangos are arms-length bodies funded by government departments but not run by them. They are given power and paid for by government departments.
They were invented because most government departments do two rather different jobs. One is to make policy about how the country should be run, as indicated by laws passed in Parliament. This is called administration. Their other task is to run or operate the policies in action. Examples would be: to run the prison system, to collect taxes, to guard the country's borders, and so on. Quangos were invented to do the second type of task. They are supposed to do some practical job better than a government department could. Of course, if they fail, the fault is theirs, rather than the government department's.
The acronym QUANGO is spelt out in various ways:
• quasi non-governmental organisation,
• quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation,
• quasi-autonomous national government organisation
• In the United Kingdom the official term is non-departmental public body or NDPB.
The term 'quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization' was created in 1967 by the Carnegie Foundation's Alan Pifer. He wrote an essay on independence and accountability in public-funded bodies. This term was shortened to 'quango' by Anthony Barker, a Briton, during a follow-up conference.
Many quangos were created from the 1980s onwards. 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 government Ministers".
In 2010 the British Government said it had earmarked (chosen) nearly 200 quangos for closure, and 120 more for merging. This was part of its Whitehall efficiency programme. In August 2012, the government said that 106 quangos had lost their public status since then. Some were axed, some were sold off, and some had their work done elsewhere.
Since Scotland was given devolved self-government in 1999, their government has also set up a number of quangos.
Republic of Ireland
Depending upon one's point of view, the separation of a quango from government might allow its functions to be more commercially exercised. Or else it might allow an elected minister to evade responsibility for spending public money. Quangos have been criticised as undemocratic, expensive and letting government grow too big.
The Times has accused quangos of bureaucratic waste and excess. In 2005 Dan Lewis, author of The Essential Guide to Quangos, claimed that many quangos were useless and duplicated the work of others. In August 2008 a report by the right-leaning pressure group the Taxpayers' Alliance, claimed that £15 billion was being wasted by the regional development agencies, quangos set up to encourage economic development in their regions.
- Defining 'Quango': article from political site Governing Dynamo
- Economic Research Council - online database of all UK quangos 1998-2006
- Cabinet Office - Agencies and Public Bodies
- The Sunday Times Article on Quangos - Sept 2006
- http://www.nytimes.com/1987/09/05/opinion/l-letter-on-quasi-public-organizations-whence-came-the-quango-and-why-969587.html?pagewanted=1 Letter: On Quasi-Public Organizations; whence came the Quango, and why - New York Times Opinion page by Alan Pifer
- Public Bodies 1997, "Introduction"
- Focus: THE UNSEEN GOVERNMENT OF THE UK
- One by one, the quangos are abolished. But at what cost?, N Morris, The Independent, 2010-07-27, accessed 2010-08-15.
- BBC News: More than 100 quangos axed by coalition, say ministers. 
- Scottish Government Scottish Government public bodies site
- According to a survey carried out by the think-tank Tasc in 2006. Focus: What's wrong with quangos? — The Sunday Times newspaper article, 29 October 2006
- Waste mounts as £100 billion web of quangos duplicates work
- "Agencies branded 'waste of money'". bbc.co.uk. BBC News. 2008-08-08. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/7548573.stm. Retrieved 2008-08-08. "Quangos set up to improve the fortunes of the English regions have been branded a costly and ineffectual waste of money by a pressure group."