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Letting the Sunlight In
At least 30 quasi-public agencies in Oregon perform public functions, overseeing billions of dollars in their budgets. However, they operate with far less transparency and public accountability than other state agencies.
A quasi-governmental organization, corporation or agency is a publicly chartered body that provides a public service and is controlled by an appointed board. In Oregon they provide essential public services, such as transportation, accident insurance, housing, economic development and health care. They employ thousands of Oregonians and oversee multi-billion-dollar budgets.
But they are not strictly public agencies, because they do not principally rely on funding from the state budget, and they operate independently from normal state oversight. Nor can they be classified as private because they are overseen by government-appointed boards and are granted public powers to collect fees or other revenues, as well as to provide public services.
Despite significant strides toward government transparency in other areas of Oregon’s budget, quasi-public agencies remain largely exempt from public oversight. This reduces the taxpayers’ ability to hold these agencies accountable for their performance and use of public funds.
Oregon’s quasi-public agencies play a large and important role in government operations.
- + There are at least 30 quasi-public agencies in Oregon, collectively employing at least 18,385 Oregonians and overseeing billions of dollars in revenues and spending.
- + Much of the public’s contact with government occurs through public structures provided by quasi-public agencies, such as transportation, insurance and healthcare.
- + The combined expenses of the 14 quasi-public agencies for which budgetary information could be obtained totaled just under $4 billion annually. This is more than four times as much as Oregon allocates for the Department of Education and almost twice as much as the state spends through the Department of Transportation.1 Some of these agencies, for example the Oregon Health Sciences University, oversee as much as $1.3 billion2 in annual outlays, or almost one-third more than the Oregon Housing and Community Services agency.3
- By comparison, the entire state budget was about $29.8 billion4 per year in the 2009-11 biennium; the 14 quasi-public agencies for which data could be obtained account for an additional 13.3 percent in public spending that goes without normal government oversight or public scrutiny.
Only a few quasi-public agencies disclose detailed financial information online, while many provide limited or no information.
- + Only 14 of the 30 quasi-public agencies identified in this report disclosed any financial information online. Of these only 9 have reasonably detailed budgetary reports available.
- + Not a single quasi-public agency provides checkbook-level information, which would enable citizens to track individual public expenditures.
- + None of the quasi-public agencies make financial information available on the Oregon transparency website.
Requiring quasi-public agencies to publish detailed financial information on the state transparency website is an easy and cost-effective way for Oregon to benefit from increased transparency.
- + Financial transparency promotes fiscal responsibility, efficient use of resources and public confidence.
- + Providing financial information online is a cheap, cost-effective way to keep government transparent and accountable.
- + Important steps have been taken toward increased transparency in Oregon—such as the creation of the state transparency website—but there is still a lot of room for improvement.
- + It is especially important that quasi-public agencies be transparent because they are generally subject to far less financial oversight than other public agencies, and not subject to the accountability that elections provide.
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