United Nations Reform Initiatives

Answers to Hearings Questions Gao ID: NSIAD-99-223R July 7, 1999

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information related to the June 22, 1999, hearing on the nomination of Richard C. Holbrooke to be Ambassador to the United Nations, focusing on United Nations reform issues related to: (1) organizational restructuring; (2) reducing overhead; (3) development dividend; (4) the oversight and monitoring of program effectiveness; (5) sunset provisions for program mandates; and (6) personnel.

GAO noted that: (1) the Secretary General has not proposed to eliminate any functions of the United Nations; (2) all major budget programs that existed in 1996 were continued as a line item in the 1998-1999 biennium budget; (3) the Secretary General has restructured some departments and offices, and this has led to reductions in staff and budget in these areas; (4) the new structure has worked to improve coordination and reduce duplication; (5) the United Nations does have a cost accounting system that can allocate overhead costs to program activities; (6) 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; (7) the Secretariat has reported measurable savings of at least $13 million in its efforts to reduce overhead costs; (8) the Secretariat has also reported that it saved travel costs of $5 million by negotiating better rates and leasing planes to transport police monitors and other staff rather than purchasing them individual tickets; (9) the development account will use savings from the regular budget to fund technical assistance projects in developing countries; (10) according to Department of State 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; (11) in developing the proposed 2000-2001 biennium budget, the Secretary General proposed that the development account receive $13 million to be funded by anticipated savings in overhead costs; (12) State 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; (13) the 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; (14) many developing countries are opposed to sunset provisions because they perceive it could threaten the continuation of programs they consider important; and (15) the Secretary General has 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.

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