Numerous Oregon governors have tried to dismantle inactive commissions but largely failed

SALEM — A bill in the Oregon Legislature would do away with a dozen obsolete state boards and commissions, ranging from the Baseball Advisory Committee to the Task Force on Military Families.

According to a list compiled by the Legislative Policy and Research Office last year, the state has more than 250 boards and commissions, some of which venture deep into bureaucratic esoterica, such as the Board of Denture Technology and the Board of Electrologists and Body Art Practitioners.

These entities serve varying purposes — some regulate professions and in so doing play a role in public health; others make policy recommendations.

There is sometimes no distinction between a board, commission, committee or task force. For instance, a commission may oversee a state agency or a particular industry. Generally, task forces are used to address a particular issue on a temporary basis, while boards, commissions and committees usually function regularly.

Sen. Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro, chair of the Senate Committee on General Government and Accountability, said his committee sought to make a list of commissions and boards that hadn't met recently.

"That's the kind of thing I'm interested in, making the government as transparent as possible, get rid of things that aren't needed, or don't make any sense," Riley said in a phone interview Monday. "And this was a good place to start."

The Legislative Policy and Research Office found 46 boards, commissions and task forces that "showed no evidence of activity" in the past year. The list was whittled down as officials learned some bodies were required by federal law, others only met intermittently by design, and others still after legislative counsel found some needed to be kept to "honor the formalities of interstate compact language."

Lawmakers on the Senate General Government and Accountability Committee discussed culling the collection of boards and commissions at a meeting Dec. 13.

"Honestly, governors have been trying to whittle down the list for many years, and have not done so because the Legislature hasn't helped," Riley said. "And I wasn't asked by the governor to do this, but I think she'll be pleased."

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, said at the time she felt that the list of proposed reductions didn't go far enough.

"I would certainly be supportive of starting to take a hard look at other boards and commissions about, even the ones that are meeting, about what they are actually contributing and how much the state is paying for their existence," she said.

Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, said she wondered how the public could attend even 10 percent of the meetings of the state's various public boards and commissions.

"I don't think there is public participation," Thatcher said. "There's a facade of public participation in that the public is invited, but there's so many, it's just overwhelming."

The list compiled by the policy and research office did not include the state's agricultural commodity commissions.

The trend of using boards and commission to make policy dates back to the 1880s in the United States, when civil service inspired a desire to involve the public and those affected by policies in the process of policymaking, said Jim Moore, political science professor at Pacific University and director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation.

Some of the boards arose out of a new need for regulations, such as the creation of the aeronautics board in response to the invention of the airplane. Others stem from requests from professionals who want to be regulated by the state, Moore said.

Efforts to downsize state boards and commissions have been a perennial project for governors. Govs. Vic Atiyeh, Mark Hatfield and Barbara Roberts all spearheaded such efforts, Moore said.

"It is a good way to say you're shrinking the size of government without shrinking the size of government," Moore said.

Illustrating that point, the eliminations identified will have no impact on the state budget.

After an amendment to the legislation, the following 12 boards and commissions would be eliminated:

• The Baseball Advisory Committee;

• The Board of Directors for the Oregon School for the Deaf;

• The Committee on Performance Excellence;

• The Governor's Council on Oregon's Economy;

• The Military Council;

• The Natural Resources Policy Administrator;

• The Oregon Progress Board;

• The Outdoor Youth Program Advisory Board;

• The Public Officials Compensation Commission;

• The Special Legislative Committee on Public Education Appropriation;

• The Task Force on Military Families;

• The Western States Legislative Forestry Task Force.

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