The Netherlands has approximately 1,900 institutions/organizations, placed at arm’s length from government, charged with implementing legal tasks with public money. Some 600 of them are so-called autonomous administrative authorities (Zelfstandige Bestuursorganen, ZBO), such as the Public Broadcasting Foundation (NOS), the Commissariat for the Media, the National Forestry Service (Staatsbosbeheer), the Central Statistical Bureau (CBS), or the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW). According to the national ZBO register, in 2004, approximately €120 billion was spent by such bodies. In 2009, ministries could not give a total amount spent. Only Social Affairs and Public Health provided information on how much money autonomous administrative bodies falling under their jurisdiction generate in terms of premiums and levies. In their departmental annual reports, seven ministries do not provide performance information. In addition, there are the numerous public educational institutes, academic hospitals and museums, as well as dozens of oversight bodies and inspectorates, such as the Authority for Financial Markets and Competition or the Inspectorate for Education. In 2006 these bodies employed some 10,000 work years of civil servants. They inspect issues as manifold as youth institutes, health institutes, penitentiary institutes, environmental hazards, transport hazards, mobile phones, etcetera.
There are several shortcomings in terms of monitoring ZBO and other types of autonomous administrative authorities: since the voice of citizens is barely audible, the quality of services cannot be directly assessed through democratic processes; ministerial oversight is fairly haphazard and opportunistic, and is limited to political priorities, risks or actual crises. One example includes the case of a former minister of finance and later CEO of a private bank that went bankrupt, who in 2010 had to be cleared of professional misconduct in order for him to continue his present function as CEO in a national bank receiving bailout funds. Two oversight authorities, the Dutch National Bank and the Authority of Financial Markets and Competition, arrived at mutually contradictory verdicts. The minister of finance had to play the role of tiebreaker. However, there is also some evidence these authorities can be set up spontaneously to provide a form of horizontal accountability through peer review systems or client forums and potentially complement the hierarchical, more punitive oversight of ministries when it comes to facilitating genuine learning processes.