Delete Your Commission (And Boards And Task Forces, Too)

Jeff Jacoby
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Posted: Jan 23, 2017 12:01 AM
Delete Your Commission (And Boards And Task Forces, Too)

SOME STATES are plagued with earthquakes. Others suffer from frequent wildfires, or are awash in crooked politicians, or get belted with lake-effect snow.

Massachusetts is infested with commissions.

State government commissions, that is. And state government boards, councils, authorities, committees, task forces, and agencies. At last count, the Commonwealth had 673 of these official bodies, each of which was created by executive decree or by legislation in order — and here we quote the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, which in 2014 issued a report on the scourge of these commissions — "to address social or governmental problems, to license or certify professionals, or to investigate and report about certain issues of concern."

Unlike flash floods and the dab fad, in other words, these entities didn't just appear out of nowhere. Elected officials established the Homeless Animal Prevention and Care Fund Advisory Committee on purpose. Same for the Special Commission Relative to Seafood Marketing. And the Cranberry Experiment Station Board of Oversight. And the Schooner Ernestina Commission.

And so many others that merely listing them by name in small type requires more than 12 single-spaced pages.

Like "Downfall" parodies and the "Keep Calm" meme, Massachusetts boards and commissions have proliferated to near-ubiquity. A commission has been enacted for, roughly speaking, every purpose under the sun — except for the purpose of dissolving state commissions that have outlived their usefulness or were never useful in the first place. Legislation to create that commission has been proposed on Beacon Hill, but has yet to get off the ground.

But wait, there's more!

There are so many boards and commissions that they can't even find people to fill them.

The state's 673 commissions are endowed with an average of 6.6 members each, for a total of 4,440. But as the Globe's Todd Wallack reported on Monday, at least one-third of those positions are vacant, or continue to be occupied by people whose terms have expired. Expired, in some cases, more than 20 years ago. (We're looking at you, Board of Certification of Operators of Wastewater Treatment Facilities.)

In fairness, empty seats on obscure and unnecessary committees are not the worst problem in the world. But some of the commonwealth's boards and commissions actually perform useful work — or would, if only they could muster a quorum.

"For instance, three of the seven seats on the Board of Respiratory Care are vacant," Wallack reported. "So if a single member can't make a meeting, it has to be cancelled or postponed." Believe it or not, that represents improvement. The last time the Globe looked at the board, in 2014, four of its seven slots were vacant. That meant it could never assemble a quorum — which in turn meant that respiratory therapists seeking a hearing or a license reinstatement were kept in limbo for months on end.

Should respiratory therapists have to be licensed by the government of Massachusetts in the first place? Maybe. Then again, if the commonwealth's elected officers can't be bothered to supply the board with a full complement of members, maybe it really isn't necessary, after all. In which case, the board should be dissolved.

And if Massachusetts can do without a state board overseeing the practice of respiratory care, it can certainly do without a state board to oversee payments to former boxers (the five-member Boxers' Fund Board, which currently has only two valid members). It can do without the Asian American Commission, an excrescence of racial identity politics that is lacking nine of its 18 statutory members. And without the Massachusetts Dairy Promotion Board, a nine-member monument to corporate welfare and special-interest lobbying that happens to be missing seven members.

The Legislature or governor could delete them and dozens more like them tomorrow. The vast majority of Massachusetts residents wouldn't notice a thing.

To be sure, not all of the state's boards are superfluous. State colleges and universities do need panels of directors. Professions with life-and-death impacts require oversight.

But if a reasonable case can be made for some of the commissions, so many others should have been put out of their misery long ago. No other state is so swamped with these panels. If Michigan and Indiana and Vermont can manage without a Toxic Use Reduction Science Advisory Board or a Special Commission Relative to Seafood Marketing, the odds are excellent that Massachusetts can too.

Imelda Marcos didn't need all those shoes. King Solomon would have been better off with fewer wives. US presidential campaigns have way too many debates. And Massachusetts is overgrown with boards and commissions. Time to get the weed-whacker and clean them out.