The attack of the quangos

The recent controversy surrounding ACORN has focused mainly on its incompetence or dishonesty. But the idea of a government funded nongovernment organizations has received little scrutiny in the United States, unlike Britain where their existence is a major political issue. ACORN is not strictly a government funded organization; at least not yet. It receives most of its money from the unions. According to NPR, "the giant web of ACORN organizations, primarily based in Louisiana, has been funded by a mix of labor union money, government grants (which really drive conservatives crazy) and charitable contributions from large foundations."

The term "government funded nongovernment organization" -- isn't that an oxymoron? On the contrary, according to Wikipedia, two types of nongovernment organizations are exactly that: creatures of the state. You have GONGOs in the Third World -- "government-operated NGOs, which may have been set up by governments to look like NGOs in order to qualify for outside aid or promote the interests of the government in question". And you have QUANGOS in the First World. "QUANGOs are quasi-autonomous non-governmental organizations" that receive large amounts of government funding and do quasi-public duties. GONGOs are relatively pathetic institutions. It is the QUANGOs that are immensely powerful. For example, QUANGOs in the UK spend and receive five times more than the British Ministry of Defense.  There are nearly a thousand of them, ranging from the "Union Learning Fund" to "Passenger Focus", which is supposed to give train passengers "a voice".

Many of the 'quangocrats' running the organisations are Labour cronies who can earn six-figure sums. The spiralling budgets of the quangos - state agencies, commissions, advisory and monitoring bodies, as well as NHS trusts - will infuriate Britons struggling in the recession. The number of staff employed by quangos has also rocketed from around one million to 1.5million. Research by the TaxPayers' Alliance, to be published within weeks, will show the cost of the 994 quangos including the British Potato Council, Welsh Language Board and Farm Animal Welfare Council is on course to exceed £170billion.

And they are not shy about exercising their power. They exercise a vast array of semi-regulatory, quasi-legislative functions. which deliver social services, act as "human rights" organizations, or promote the arts. They are so powerful they actually forget themselves. The Times Online, for example, devoted an article to their efforts to cleanse the English language of racist, sexist, ageist and theist phrases. In an effort that recalls Orwell's description of Newspeak, the QUANGOS are determined to leave no phrase unturned left.

Dozens of quangos and taxpayer-funded organisations have ordered a purge of common words and phrases so as not to cause offence. Among the everyday sayings that have been quietly dropped in a bid to stamp out racism and sexism are “whiter than white”, “gentleman’s agreement”, “black mark” and “right-hand man”. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has advised staff to replace the phrase “black day” with “miserable day”, according to documents released under freedom of information rules.

The National Gallery in London believes that the phrase “gentleman’s agreement” is potentially offensive to women and suggests that staff should replace it with “unwritten agreement” or “an agreement based on trust” instead. The term “right-hand man” is also considered taboo by the gallery, with “second in command” being deemed more suitable. Many institutions have urged their workforce to be mindful of “gender bias” in language. The Learning and Skills Council wants staff to “perfect” their brief rather than “master” it, while the Newcastle University has singled out the phrase “master bedroom” as being problematic.

Newspeak  was a fictional language invented by George Orwell for his novel 1984. In the book, it is described as being "the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year ... this suits the totalitarian regime of the Party, whose aim is to make any alternative thinking — "thoughtcrime", or "crimethink" in the newest edition of Newspeak — impossible by removing any words or possible constructs which describe the ideas of freedom, rebellion and so on."

Some American opinion writers have recently discovered the existence of the QUANGO ( though they are probably ignorant of the existence of the GONGO, ENGO, DONGO, and INGO -- all variations of the NGO, look them up) and they are worried the phenomenon may come to America. Go Tea Party writes:

in honor of the new rising star in politics—Daniel Hannan—I think that we should all learn a new word. It is a word that rolls so drolly from his lips and one that is particularly appropriate in these times: quango. It is a very British word. Like Pukka or quinine. Even when I lived in England for a few years, I found it to be exotic. To me it conjured up the image of a multicolored ostrich.

So what is a quango? Originally it was meant to be a fun acronym for a quasi-non-governmental organization that received funding from the government. Over the years it has come to symbolize bureaucratic waste and excess. Apparently there are hundreds of quangos with thousand of appointed ‘workers’ in Great Britain at a cost of many billions of Pounds Sterling.

In honor of Daniel Hannan, I think we should use the word quango in referring to some of the more outrageous government organizations that have sprung up as a result of our lawmakers inability to tell the truth about how they are spending our money. My first nomination for Quango Status is ACORN. They certainly qualify as a quasi-bureaucratic mess that wastes money. Why are they getting our tax dollars? Does it make any sense that we are paying for them to fight against ourselves? Or worse—forcing private banks to give loans to people who should never get them! Who are they? Who is the CEO of this group? How much does she or he receive in salary per year? Does this person receive bonuses? Where or where is an real investigative journalist?

My next nomination for Quango Status is AmeriCorps. Are you aware that an AmeriCorps volunteer receives around $5,000 over the term of the ‘volunteer’ work. Okay, you say. That’s not bad. Take a deep breath after you say it. Then consider that it costs us—the taxpayer—over $20,000 to give away this $5,000? That extra money goes for administrative costs. Or, if since we are talking quangos, just call it what it is: waste and excess.

But in all candor, things haven't quite gone that far. Compared to the British QUANGOs, the local versions are strictly from hunger. ACORN is bush league compared to its European cousins. They have not yet grown to the point where they collectively dispose of five times the resources of the Department of Defense.  But during his campaign, there were signs that Barack Obama was planning to take a leaf out of the British playbook. The American Thinker grew alarmed at the enormous range of NGO efforts that Barack Obama seemed prepared to support in July 2008:

The range of his community service initiatives was outlined in an earlier American Thinker article. In his campaign document entitled "The Blueprint for Change: Barack Obama's Plan For America," Obama's "Service" section runs a close second to "Education" in complexity.  But, with his Colorado Springs' statement, it grabbed first place in its projected costs to taxpayers. Obama did the cost projection himself.

He plans to double the Peace Corps' budget by 2011, and expand AmeriCorps, USA Freedom Corps, VISTA, YouthBuild Program, and the Senior Corps.  Plus, he proposes to form a Classroom Corps, Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, Veterans Corps, Homeland Security Corps, Global Energy Corps, and a Green Jobs Corps.  Here a corps - there a corps - everywhere a corps corps.

So it made sense in Colorado Springs when he said his call to community service "will be a central cause of my presidency."  He couldn't be clearer in signaling his intentions, including a Social Investment Fund Network to link local non-profits with the federal government.

Despite the apparent contradiction in terms the reader may have discovered it perfectly possible to have a government funded nongovernment organization. Impossible things don't have to not exist; at least not in government. Perhaps it is legitimate to worry that a QUANGO may be coming to a community near you for once established they are extremely difficult to uproot. Once the gravy train starts, it has the unstoppable momentum of a 500 car freight express. In 2005 the BBC covered efforts by the Welsh to put an end to the "QUANGO state".  As the recent growth of QUANGOs in Britain demonstrates, they failed.


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