United Nations:

Additional Efforts Needed to Increase U.S. Employment at U.N. Agencies

GAO-06-988: Published: Sep 6, 2006. Publicly Released: Sep 14, 2006.

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The U.S. Congress continues to be concerned about the underrepresentation of U.S. professionals in some UN organizations and that insufficient progress has been made to improve U.S. representation. In 2001, GAO reported that several UN agencies fell short of their targets for U.S. representation and had not developed strategies to employ more Americans. This report reviews (1) U.S. representation status and employment trends at five UN agencies, (2) factors affecting these agencies' ability to meet employment targets, and (3) the U.S. Department of State's (State) efforts to improve U.S. representation and additional steps that can be taken. We reviewed five UN agencies that together comprise about 50 percent of total UN organizations' professional staff.

The United States is underrepresented at three of the five United Nations (UN) agencies we reviewed, and increased hiring of U.S. citizens is needed to meet employment targets. The three agencies where the United States is underrepresented are the International Atomic Energy Agency; UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization; and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. U.S. citizens are equitably represented at the UN Secretariat, though close to the lower end of its target range. The UN Development Program has not established a target for U.S. representation, although U.S. citizens fill about 11 percent of its professional positions. Given projected staff levels, retirements, and separations, IAEA, UNESCO, and UNHCR would need to increase hiring of Americans to meet their minimum targets for U.S. representation in 2010. While the five UN agencies face some common barriers to recruiting and retaining professional staff, including Americans, they also face their own distinct challenges. Most of these barriers and challenges are outside of the U.S. government's control. The common barriers include nontransparent human resource practices, limited external hiring, lengthy hiring processes, comparatively low or unclear compensation, required mobility, and limited U.S. government support. UN agencies also face distinct challenges. For example, at the Secretariat, candidates serving in professional UN positions funded by their governments are more likely to be hired than those who take the entry-level exam; however, the United States has not funded such positions. Also, IAEA has difficulty recruiting U.S. employees because the number of U.S. nuclear specialists is decreasing. Since 2001, State has increased its efforts to achieve equitable U.S. representation at UN agencies, and additional options exist. State has targeted efforts to recruit U.S. candidates for senior and policymaking UN positions, and although it is difficult to link State's efforts to UN hiring decisions, U.S. representation in these positions has improved or displayed no trend in the five UN agencies. U.S. representation in entry-level positions, however, has declined or did not reflect a trend in four of the five UN agencies despite State's increased efforts. Additional steps include maintaining a roster of qualified U.S. candidates, expanding marketing and outreach activities, increasing UN employment information on U.S. agency Web sites, and assessing the costs and benefits of sponsoring entry-level employees at UN agencies.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State responded in a November 2006 letter to House and Senate oversight committees that it had begun researching the concept of maintaining a roster of candidates. As of December 2009, State officials told us that they have received funding and staff resources to develop a roster, in which people interested in UN jobs would self-populate with information such as skills and interests, to be matched with UN organizations' vacancy announcements. In July 2010, State officials noted that they are in the process of finalizing this roster, which would provide a better search mode for the international vacancy announcement list and allow people to get email alerts about job vacancies. State officials said that the goal is for this roster to be operational by the end of the summer 2010.

    Recommendation: Because equitable representation of Americans employed at UN organizations has been a high priority for U.S. interests, the Secretary of State should conduct an evaluation of the costs, benefits, and trade-offs of maintaining a roster of qualified candidates for professional and senior positions determined to be a high priority for U.S. interests.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State responded in a November 2006 letter to House and Senate oversight committees that it had started researching Internet-based options for automating the dissemination of international organization vacancy announcements. State also reported that it was conducting research to expand its list of professional associations and other groups to target particular audiences with information on international organization career opportunities. In July 2007, State officials told us that they continued to outreach to new groups and attend career fairs, including military career fairs in order to target retired military personnel. In addition, in 2008, State reported that it had increased outreach, such as to the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs. State also reported that it had increased the number of outreach events from 15 events in 2005 to 38 in 2009.

    Recommendation: Because equitable representation of Americans employed at UN organizations has been a high priority for U.S. interests, the Secretary of State should expand targeted recruiting and outreach to more strategically reach populations of Americans that may be qualified for and interested in entry- and mid-level UN positions.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State responded in a November 2006 letter to House and Senate oversight committees that it had begun taking steps to provide more consistent and comprehensive information to potential candidates, including creating links on UN employment to its Mission Web sites and developing additional information on its UN employment Web page. In July 2007, State officials told us that they directed the U.S. Missions to add a link to State's UN employment site and added information on UN benefits and compensation to the site. In December 2008, State provided us with additional information added to the UN employment site, including a new international organization contact list and an updated and expanded fact sheet on UN employment. In addition, State reported that in 2007 and 2008 interagency group meetings, it requested that other agencies add links to State's UN employment site. In December 2009, State officials told us that State's Web site for the Bureau of International Organization added comprehensive information on resources for spousal employment; listed some of the UN employment benefits; provided information on internship opportunities, including links to the UN organizations' Web sites; and included a highlights box on the site's front page where special positions seeking Americans are listed.

    Recommendation: Because equitable representation of Americans employed at UN organizations has been a high priority for U.S. interests, the Secretary of State should provide more consistent and comprehensive information about UN employment on the State and U.S. mission Web sites and work with U.S. agencies to expand the UN employment information on their Web sites. This could include identifying options for developing a benefits calculator that would enable applicants to better estimate their potential total compensation based on their individual circumstances.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In response to the GAO recommendation, State did not conduct a formal assessment of funding Junior Professional Officers (JPO) in the UN system. GAO noted in its 2006 report that an assessment of the JPO program would involve weighing the trade-offs between funding JPOs and other agency programs. Instead, State informally assessed the JPO program by reviewing and agreeing with the findings of a 2008 UN Joint Inspection Unit report on JPO programs.

    Recommendation: Because equitable representation of Americans employed at UN organizations has been a high priority for U.S. interests, the Secretary of State should conduct an evaluation of the costs, benefits, and trade-offs of funding Junior Professional Officers, or other gratis personnel, where Americans are underrepresented or in danger of becoming underrepresented.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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