Olympia's kudzu of commissions

Are you on the Apiary Advisory Committee or the Migratory Waterfowl Art Commission? Report to the budget office immediately.
Are you on the Apiary Advisory Committee or the Migratory Waterfowl Art Commission? Report to the budget office immediately.

The Washington Policy Center emailed a link to a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee report released Dec. 3 that makes recommendations about what to do with the state's out-of-control proliferation of boards and commissions (pdf). In fact, as the report indicates, tracking them all down is tough, let alone getting a handle of what they do. Or don't do.

The timing for some housecleaning is good, obviously, with the state facing an "ugly" $6 billionish hole for the next budget cycle. Hacking away at the kudzu of commissions won't save a lot of money up front — many members are volunteers — but it could help streamline government by getting rid of useless or duplicative groups, and bring a little more transparency. Plus, fewer meetings would save travel reimbursements. (Couldn't many of them do their business via email and remote conferencing anyway?)

The legislature has already determined there are too many boards and commissions, some 470, ranging from the Dry Pea and Lentil Commission and the Noxious Weed Control Board to the Public Disclosure Commission and the Board of Massage. Some do actual work overseeing public universities, watchdogging industry, advising policy makers, and licensing professionals from denturists to funeral directors. But together with various ad hoc committees and symbolic entities — not to mention groups created as a sop to various constituencies — getting a handle on them has been difficult.

The Office of Financial Management in Olympia is tasked with keeping tabs on many of the groups, but not all. And it appears that not all have been regularly reporting their activities, expenditures, and certainly not their obsolescence, according to the report. The state is unsure of exactly what rules and mandates all the various boards and commissions have. Oversight has not been systematic.

The report includes a list of 36 boards and commissions that report little activity to OFM. Are they moribund, or just not filing the paperwork on what they're up to? If you're on (to name but a few) the Apiary Advisory Committee, the Acupuncture Ad Hoc Consulting Group, Self Insurance Insolvency Trust Board, the Seed Arbitration Committee, or the Migratory Waterfowl Art Commission, you better send up a flare because that list invites closer scrutiny.

Putting together a comprehensive inventory of boards and commissions is a start. The report makes numerous recommendations for how to begin clearing the thicket, but even that will take manpower and one wonders if the budget will leave enough left to do the heavy pruning required to eventually bring order.

One could appoint a commission to do the work, perhaps. The Noxious Weed people might have the proper experience.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.