United Nations Reform Initiatives: Answers to Hearings Questions

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-07-07.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

      United States

GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      National Security and
      International Affairs Division


      July 7,1999

      The Honorable Jesse Helms
      Chairman, Committee on Foreign Relations
      United States Senate

      Subject: United Nations Reform Initiatives Answers to Hearings Questions

      Dear Mr. Chairman:

      This letter responds to your Committee’s request for additional information related to
      the June 22,1999, hearing on the nomination of Richard C. Holbrooke to be
      Ambassador to the United Nations, which covered, among other topics, the status of
      reform initiatives underway at the United Nations. We are also providing a copy of
      this letter to Senator Grams and Senator Biden, Ranking Minority Member. We will
      make copies available to others on request.

      Our responses are based on prior and ongoing work at the United Nations focusing on
      management issues, as well as additional information on U.N. reform initiatives
      obtained from the United Nations and the State Department during the course of
      preparation for testimony before your Committee.

      If you have any further questions or would like to discuss any of these issues in more
      detail, please call Tetsuo Miyabara or me at (202) 512-4128.

      Sincerely yours,

      Harold Johnson, Associate Director
      International Relations and Trade Issues


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The following text provides our response for the record to questions submitted by Senator Rod
Grams to follow up on GAO testimony at the June 22,1999 hearing on the confirmation of
Richard C. Holbrooke as the Permanent Representative of the United States to the United

Organizational Restructuring

Question   1. A fundamental problem confronting the U.N. has been a lack of coordination and
              cooperation among the various organizations within the U.N. system, resulting in
              duplication of efforts and inefficient programs. The primary goal of the Secretary
              General’s reform plan was to define the core missions of the United Nations and
              to re&ructure the organization accordingly. I am concerned that the U.N. appears
              to be committing to emphasize new priorities like drug interdiction, disarmament,
           1 and terrorism -without curtailing its efforts in other areas.

               l   Has the Secretary General proposed to eliminate a single function of the UN.
                   in order to devote more resources to the core missions which he outlined?

Answer:        The Secretary General has not proposed to eliminate any functions of the United
               Nations. Based on our preliminary analysis, all major budget programs that
               existed in 1996 were continued as a line item in the 1998-99 biennium budget.
               However, the Secretary General has restructured some departments and offices,
               and this has led to reductions in staff and budget in these areas. For example,
               three Departments-Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, Economic
               and Social Information, and Development Support and Management Services-
               were consolidated into the Department for Economic and Social Affairs, resulting
               in 48 posts being eliminated and the budget for the consolidated office being
               reduced by $9.1 million. The 48 posts were abolished and were not reclassified or
               moved to another unit.

Question 2. Two years ago, the Sectretary General created four new executive committees to
            coordinate the implementation of U.N. programs and activities.

               l   Has the U.N. permitted the GAO to have full access to the new executive
                   committees in order to evaluate its effectiveness?

Answer:        We do not yet know whether the executive committees will provide us with the
               access needed to complete our evaluation. Thus far, the United Nations has given
               us adequate access, including access to the Deputy Secretary General and the
               Under Secretaries General who head the departments.

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                  l   Are there specific examples that you can cite of how this new structure is
                      working to better coordinate and reduce duplication of effort?

 Answer:           There are several examples of how the new structure has worked to improve
                   coordination and reduce duplication. The Executive Committee on Peace and
                   Security recently developed a unified plan for the September 1999 referendum in
                   East Timor, coordinating the work of the Office of Human Rights and the
                   Departments of Peacekeeping Operations, Political Affairs, and Management.
                  U.N. officials viewed it as a breakthrough for these departments to work together
                   as a cohesive team. Another example is where the Executive Committee on
                  Economic and Social Affairs commissioned a study of its six major publications,
                  such as World Ponulation Monitoring and The State of the World Ponulation. The
                  review found considerable overlap and redundancy among the publications,
                  although the committee has not yet moved to terminate publications or take other
                  steps to reduce the overlap. Other examples indicate that the Secretariat is
                  making progress in coordinating some work in the field, where the true test of the
                  new management structure wiI.I occur, but also faces challenges. We will provide
                  a more systematic analysis of the work of the executive committees in our report
                  to be issued later this year.

Question 3.       In response to Senator Kassebaum’s efforts in 1985, the U.N. agreed to reduce the
                  number of under secretaries general by 25%. It now appears that we are getting
                  back to the number of under secretaries general we had before this reform.
                  Secretary General Annan has created a number of new under secretaries
                  general, including one for the Millenium, one for the C.I.S, and one for the E.U.

              l       Are you confident that alI the under secretaries general are counted in the
                      budget proposals?

Answer:       The authorized number of under secretaries general has increased from 21 in the
              199495 biennium to 26 in 199899. This count includes all under secretaries
              general authorized in the U.N. regular budget and the extra-budgetary accounts.
              We could not identify any other under secretaries general.

              l       Do you see a management need for these new Under-Secretary-Generals?

Answer:    +. We have not completed our assessment of the organizational changes and the
              reforms in managing human resources, consequently we do not yet have an
              informed view on this matter. We will provide further information on this
              question in our report to be completed later this year.

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Reducing Overhead

Question 4. Two years ago, the Secretary General stated his intention to reduce by one-third
            the proportion of resources from the regular budget which are devoted to
            administration and other non-program activities.

              l   In this regard, does the U.N. have a cost accounting system so that overhead
                  costs can be properly allocated to program activities?

Answer:       The United Nations does have a cost accounting system that can allocate
              overhead costs to program activities. After costs are incurred, they are billed to
              an allotment account and the cost is classified under an object of expenditure in
              accordance with the U.N. financial rules and regulations. For example, overhead
              costs for servicing the General Assembly, such as translation services, office
              supplies, hospitality, temporary assistance, printing, and editorial services are
              classified under objects of expenditure such as general operating expenses and
              supplies and material. These expenses are then charged to the program for
              General Assembly Affairs. Organizational overhead, such as the costs for
              preparing budgets, ensuring financial control, contracting for goods and services,
              arranging transportation, and recruiting and hiring employees are charged to the
              administrative offices that deal with these issues. In its most recent report, the
              Board of Audit, stated that the income and expenditures they examined on a test
              basis were properly classified and recorded.

              l   Has there been any measurable success in reducing overhead at all?

Answer:       The Secretariat has reported measurable savings of at least $13 million in its
              efforts to reduce overhead costs. Some examples of savings that the Secretariat
              reports are $1.5 million saved by eliminating unnecessary documents for
              conferences and over $3 million saved by outsourcing services such as security,
              maintenance, and food service. The Secretariat has also reported that it saved
              travel costs of $5 miIlion by negotiating better rates and leasing planes to
              transport police monitors and other staff rather than purchasing them individual

Develonment Dividend

Question 5. One of the Secretary General’s reforms was to have any administrative savings
            transferred into development projects instead of back to countries with advanced
            economies in the form of lower assessments.

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                   l   Does this violate the longstanding U.S. government policy that U.N. regular
                       budget contributions must not be used to pay for technical assistance
                       programs in developing countries?

Answer:        The development account will use savings from the regular budget to fund
               technical assistance projects in developing countries. However, regular budget
               funds are already being used to fund technical assistance. According to State
               Department officials, the United States discourages the use of the regular budget
               to fund technical assistance programs in developing countries, but does not have
               a formal policy against this practice. We are currently examining whether 22 USC
               Sec. 1896 (a) restricts the use of U.N. funds for technical assistance projects and
               will provide this information in our report to be issued later this year.

               l       Could this provide an incentive to over-budget on a permanent basis since the
                       Secretariat would retain all unspent funds at the end of the budget cycle?

Auswer:        Yes. For example, in developing the proposed 2000-01 biennium budget, the
               Secretary General proposed that the development account receive $13 million to
               be funded by anticipated savings in overhead costs. The Secretary General
               further estimated that the Secretariat would save an additional $20 million by
               undertaking greater administrative efficiencies, and he proposed that these
               savings be used to lower the budget level. However, in deciding on a preliminary
               budget level, the General Assembly included the $13 million for the development
               account and also added back into the budget the anticipated savings of $20
               million that the Secretariat’s estimates showed was not needed. The proposed
               budget for the 2000-01 biennium is currently $125 million higher than the previous
               biennium. The State Department also concluded that the preliminary budget was
               much more than necessary to carry out all mandated programs efficiently and
               effectively and that any budget containing $2.5 billion would easily contain
               substantially more than $20 million in savings opportunities.

Oversight and Monitoring Effectiveness of Programs

Question   6. Does the U.N. have an established set of guidelines for evaluating program

Answer:    -   The United Nations does not have an established set of guidelines for evaluating
               program effectiveness. The existing guidelines on evaluating effectiveness
               consists of the following two sentences: “The assessment should examine both
               the efficiency with which the activity is conducted and the effectiveness of the
               results. F’indings should be based on evidence, including records of opinions of
               independent experts and the views of clients and users.”

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                         l   If the evaluation process does not focus on program effectiveness, and only
                             looks at the number of reports and conferences, what value do you see in it?

    Answer:              The current system for monitoring program performance reports only program
                         outputs and is of limited value in providing information about whether programs
                         are accomplishing their intended objectives. Member states have also identified
                         this weakness in the current monitoring and evaluation system and some have
                         come to the conclusion that the current system no longer meets the needs of the
                         United Nations.

    Question        7.   The Secretary General’s reform initiatives have included calls for new program
                         mandates to include specific time limits or sunset provisions.

                         l   Has the Secretary General been successful in his attempts to ensure that
                             sunset provisions are inchrded in all new program mandates?

    Answer:              No. The proposal to include sunset provisions on all new programs was tabled
                         during the session of the Committee on Programs and Coordination. There are
                         no further proposals to implement this measure.

                         l   What is the source of resistance to sunset provisions?

,   Answer:              Many developing countries are opposed to this measure. U.S. officials and U.S.
                         and U.N. documents indicate that the Group of 77, representing many of these
                         countries, is reluctant to support this measure because they perceive it could
                         threaten the continuation of programs they consider important.


    Question        8.   While the number of authorized posts has decreased since the Secretary General
                         announced his intention to eliminate 1,000 posts, the number of people working
                         for the U.N. appears to have increased. Two years ago, the State Department
                         certified that there were 8,500 regular budget posts filled.

                         l   In your opinion, why couldn’t the Secretary General succeed in eliminating
                             1,000 posts given that over 1,000 were vacant at the tune he made the

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ENCLOSURE I                                                                        ENCLOSURE 1

Answer:       The Secretary General has currently abolished 954 posts, but has not been able to
              eliminate the 1,000 posts because the posts targeted for abolition were not vacant
              and member states have passed several resolutions indicating that no staff were
              to lose their jobs as a result of the downsizing.

              l   Does the Secretary General propose increasing or decreasing the number of
                  U.N. posts in his most recent budget proposal?

Answer:       For the regular budget for the 2000-01 biennium, the Secretary General proposes
              an increase of 61 posts, from 8,741 to 8,802. The 8,741 posts are the number
              authorized for the end of the 1993-99 biennium.

              l   Do you know how many U.N. regular budget posts are actually filled at this

Answer:       No. The United Nations provides information on an annual basis about the level
              of its on-board staff paid through the regular budget. As of the end of 1998, the
              U.N. Secretariat had an on-board staff of 7,738 posts (a 12 percent vacancy rate).
              U.N. officials informed us that the vacancy rate in 1999 is running higher than


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