United Nations

Observations on Reform Initiatives Gao ID: T-NSIAD-99-196 June 22, 1999

Reform at the United Nations, according to the Secretary-General, means embracing fundamental measures to strengthen the organization and its efficiency. Some of these measures, including greater accountability and budget restraint, have been demanded by member states. Other measures include initiatives announced by the Secretary-General in 1997. This testimony examines U.N. efforts to (1) unify and focus its organizational structure; (2) control its budget and institute new budget procedures; (3) improve oversight, program monitoring, and evaluation; and (4) improve its human resources management.

GAO noted that: (1) GAO believes that the Secretary-General has undertaken a serious effort to reform the United Nations to improve its relevance to member states and enhance its operational efficiency; (2) although clear progress has been made in some areas, the initiatives GAO examined have not been fully implemented; (3) progress has been made in unifying and focusing the organizational structure of the U.N. Secretariat, and the programs that are a part of the United Nations proper, to make the Secretariat a more cohesive management unit; (4) the Secretary-General appointed a deputy secretary-general to function as the chief operating officer and to strengthen internal coordination; (5) a senior management group, composed of the under secretaries-general and the heads of those programs that report to the Secretary-General, was also created; (6) this group meets weekly to ensure U.N. actions are unified and focused on the same objectives; (7) GAO has not yet tested the new structure's actual impact on improving program delivery and effectiveness; (8) this new structure does not include the specialized agencies, and the long-standing concerns about overlap, duplication, and coordination within the U.N. system as a whole are not being addressed by this organizational restructuring; (9) while budgets have been level for the past two bienniums, no fundamental changes have been made to the budgeting process to control the growth of the regular budget; (10) the process for developing budgets is largely unchanged, and, adopting regular budgets by member state consensus does not ensure control of budget growth; (11) although the Secretariat supports implementing results-based budgeting and sunset provisions, these measures have not been adopted; (12) an area where important improvements have been made is in the oversight of U.N. programs and activities; (13) the Office of Internal Oversight Services has established itself as the internal oversight mechanism for the U.N. Secretary-General and, based on GAO's continuing work at the United Nations, this office appears to have become an institutional part of the United Nations; (14) however, progress has been much slower in developing and implementing a monitoring and evaluation system to measure and report on program performance and effectiveness that would help member states make program decisions; and (15) to begin addressing what the U.N. Secretariat considered a crisis in its human resources management, it recently introduced several initiatives and adopted a strategy to carry them out.

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