United Nations:

Reforms Progressing, but Comprehensive Assessments Needed to Measure Impact

GAO-04-339: Published: Feb 13, 2004. Publicly Released: Feb 13, 2004.

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The U.N. Secretary General launched two reform agendas, in 1997 and 2002, to address the U.N.'s core management challenges--poor leadership of the Secretariat, duplication among its many offices and programs, and the lack of accountability for staff performance. In 2000, GAO reported that the Secretary General had reorganized the Secretariat's leadership and structure, but that the reforms were not yet complete. As the largest financial contributor to the United Nations, the United States has a strong interest in the completion of these reforms. GAO was asked to assess the (1) overall status of the 1997 and 2002 reforms, (2) implementation of reforms in four key areas, and (3) potential challenges to reform.

As of December 2003, 60 percent of the 88 reform initiatives in the 1997 agenda and 38 percent of the 66 initiatives in the 2002 agenda were in place. In general, reforms under the Secretary General's authority were progressing more quickly than those requiring member states' approval. Since 1997, the Secretariat has implemented reforms to provide more unified leadership and coordination across departments and offices. However, the Secretariat has implemented other reforms, such as developing a written plan or establishing a new office, that are only the first step in achieving the Secretary General's overall goals. Reforms in four key areas of U.N. operations are in various stages. First, the Secretariat has taken positive steps to strengthen its human capital management, but reforms in this area are ongoing and additional challenges remain. Second, the U.N. has begun to adopt results-oriented budgeting, but its monitoring and evaluation system does not measure program impact. Third, although the Secretariat reorganized its public information department, reforms of library management and publications are not fully in place. Fourth, the Secretariat's human rights office implemented the majority of its management reforms but does not have the authority to implement reforms outside the Secretariat. U.N. reform faces several challenges. For example, the Secretariat does not conduct comprehensive assessments of the status and impact of U.N. reforms. In addition, the reform agendas lack clearly stated priorities, interim goals, and target dates for overall completion. Other challenges include resistance to change from program managers and possible resource constraints.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State has worked with UN member states to encourage the Secretary-General to report on the status and impact of UN reforms in the course of the United States' participation on the General Assembly's Administrative and Budgetary Committee. State informed us that as reform-related items come up for discussion during the Committee's sessions, the US Representative to the UN asks for reports from the Secretary-General and ensures that these reports indicate the status of the reform items under discussion. State noted that actions taken by the United Nations since the issuance of GAO's February 2004 Report need to be seen in the context of developments that have occurred in the intervening four-year period. In 2005, the UN convened a summit of world leaders to discuss management reforms, among other issues. The Outcome Document from that summit outlined broad UN reform efforts and called on the Secretary-General to submit specific proposals for implementing management reforms. In 2006, the Secretariat submitted proposals for reforming various management operations, including human resources, information technology, and procurement. State noted that the UN continues to report on and track progress in implementing these 2006 reform elements. For example, on procurement, the UN reported in 2007 that 10 of the 27 main procurement reform actions had been completed and 17 were in progress. The 2007 procurement report also included information on progress achieved on a number of specific reform initiatives, including on ethics and internal control guidelines and on streamlining the procurement process. UN officials told us that the next procurement reform status report will be issued during the 63rd General Assembly session.

    Recommendation: To promote full implementation and accountability of the Secretary General's overall reform actions, the Secretary of State and the Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations should work with other member states to encourage the Secretary General to report regularly through an existing U.N. reporting mechanism on the status and impact of the 1997 and 2002 reforms and other reforms that may follow.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State has worked with UN member states to encourage the Secretary-General to prioritize the completion of key reforms and to implement those short-term reform goals that fall under his authority. State reported that because reform is an ongoing process with innovations constantly being applied to existing operations, it has been pushing the Secretary-General to prioritize key reforms. For example, in March 2007, the United States Representative to the United Nations (USUN) sent a letter to the Secretary-General urging him to focus particularly on making reforms that strengthen oversight and accountability and promote ethical conduct. State also noted that it strongly encourages the Secretary-General to implement the reforms that fall under his authority. As an example, State reported that the Secretary-General has exercised his authority in a positive manner with respect to encouraging the mobility of staff. In May 2007, the UN established a managed reassignment program designed to encourage movement of personnel across functions, departments, and duty stations. State also discussed the Secretary-General's steps to enhance transparency and accountability. At the urging of the United States and other member states he strengthened the UN's whistleblower policy and expanded and enhanced financial disclosure requirements.

    Recommendation: To promote full implementation and accountability of the Secretary General's overall reform actions, the Secretary of State and the Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations should work with other member states to encourage the Secretary General to differentiate between short- and long-term reform goals and establish time frames for completion for those reforms that are not in place.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: State did not provide any information on efforts it is making to work with other member states to encourage the Secretary-General to conduct assessments of the financial and personnel implications needed to implement the reforms. State reported that reform proposals are accompanied by projected financial implications and that these reports contain information on the status and impact of previous reform recommendations. State further reported that it uses these estimates along with analysis by the UN's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budget Questions (ACABQ) as a basis for its assessments of the resource implications for implementing various reform initiatives. However, in a 2006 review of UN reforms, we reported that the UN had not agreed upon implementation plans for reforms, including time frames and cost estimates, and recommended that the UN add these elements to its reforms. In 2007, we further reported that although we previously recommended that State work with other member states to encourage the UN to include cost estimates and time frames for implementing reforms, we found little evidence that these elements had been established. Similarly, the ACABQ has been critical of the UN Secretariat's reporting on its plans for implementing reforms and progress in achieving them. For example, in a review of the UN's 2007 status report on procurement reforms, the ACABQ reported that the Secretary-General should broaden the scope of the report to include more evidence and analysis on the impact of activities accomplished.

    Recommendation: To promote full implementation and accountability of the Secretary General's overall reform actions, the Secretary of State and the Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations should work with other member states to encourage the Secretary General to conduct assessments of the financial and personnel implications needed to implement the reforms.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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