The acronyms Qango and Quango, variously spelt out as QUAsi Non-Governmental Organization, QUasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organization, and QUasi-Autonomous National Government Organization, have been used, notably in the United Kingdom, but also in Australia, Ireland and other countries, to describe a range of organizations to which governments have devolved power. Confusion over the meaning of the acronym has been reflected in confusion over the use of the term, and may have contributed to its decline in use. The term Quango carries with it an implication of poor management and lack of accountability.
The term originated as a humorous shortening of quasi-NGO, that is, an ostensibly non-governmental organization which performs governmental functions, often with government funding or other support. There are many such organizations. In Australia and other countries, the Red Cross provides blood bank services, with government support and backing of various kinds. Examples in the United Kingdom include bodies engaged in self-regulation of various sectors, such as the Press Complaints Commission and the Law Society. An essential feature of a Quango, in the original definition, was that it should not be formally part of the public sector.
However, the appeal of the term was such that it was extended to a wide range of governmental organizations, such as executive agencies (from 1988) providing health, education and other services. Particularly in the United Kingdom, this extension took place in a polemical context, being associated with claims that the proliferation of such authorities was undesirable and should be reversed In the course of this process, attempts were made to derive the acronym from longer terms which did not carry the presumption that the organization in question was non-governmental. The most popular was Quasi-Autonomous National Government Organization, which, however, carries with it the false presumption that state and local governments cannot make use of Quangos, so leading to the parallel acronym, Qualgo.
Since most of such bodies are in fact part of the government in terms of funding, appointment and function, the acronym does not work as a description - these are generally not non-governmental organizations with less autonomy than others. As a result, it has largely been abandoned in UK official usage. The less controversial term non-departmental public body (NDPB) is now used to describe many of the organizations with devolved governmental roles, in an attempt to avoid the pejorative associations of the term Quango.
The UK government's definition of a non-departmental public body or quango in 1997 was:
Quangos are often accused of bureaucratic waste and excess. For example, in 2005 Dan Lewis, author of The Essential Guide to Quangos, claimed that the UK has 529 Quangos, many of which are useless and duplicate the work of others. In August 2008 a report by the right-wing 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 the English regions.
Network Rail, the organization responsible for the UK's railway infrastructure is a classical quango, subject to dispute over whether it is, as its formal structure suggests, a non-governmental private company, or a state-owned enterprise.