U.S. Employment in the United Nations:

State Department Needs to Enhance Reporting Requirements and Evaluate Its Efforts to Increase U.S. Representation

GAO-10-1028: Published: Sep 30, 2010. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2010.

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The U.S. Congress has continuing concerns about U.S. underrepresentation in United Nations (UN) organizations. Some UN organizations establish targets for member state representation, and such positions are classified as geographic positions. GAO's 2006 report found that the State Department (State) could take additional steps to increase U.S. representation. This report examines (1) U.S. representation at five UN organizations; (2) issues affecting the employment of professional staff, including Americans at these organizations; and (3) efforts State has undertaken to increase U.S. representation. GAO analyzed employment data from five UN organizations that comprise over 50 percent of total UN professional staff and interviewed U.S. and UN officials, including 63 Americans employed at the five organizations.

In 2009, the United States was underrepresented, based on formal and informal targets, at all five of the UN organizations GAO reviewed--the Secretariat, World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This follows general U.S. underrepresentation at most of these organizations from 2006 to 2009. At the four UN organizations that distinguish geographic and nongeographic positions, there was an increase in the percentage of nongeographic professional positions during 2006 to 2009. The United States is not as well represented in nongeographic as geographic positions at FAO and the Secretariat, which could affect future overall U.S. representation. In addition, U.S. representation in policymaking and senior-level positions generally decreased at these UN organizations from 2006 to 2009. The five UN organizations GAO reviewed have challenges that affect the recruitment, hiring, and retention of professional staff, including Americans. Challenges include Americans' lack of proficiency in UN languages, difficulty for spouses to obtain employment in some locations, lengthy hiring processes, and limited opportunities for promotion and professional growth. For example, 45 out of 63 Americans we interviewed identified the lengthy hiring process as a challenge to recruiting and hiring. While these UN organizations have initiated human resource reforms that may address some of the issues, such as efforts to decrease hiring time, it is too early to determine their impact. Since 2006, State has made efforts to increase U.S. representation in the UN, including implementing some of GAO's 2006 recommendations. State has improved its Web site; increased outreach initiatives; begun developing a Web-based database, so interested UN job applicants can receive automatic vacancy announcements; and conducted an informal review of funding JPOs, but it continues to allocate JPOs at only a few UN organizations. State has not assessed the effectiveness of most of its current efforts to increase U.S. representation. Despite State's efforts, many Americans employed at the five organizations learned about UN job opportunities through their own networks, not through State. GAO recommends that the Secretary of State (1) include data on U.S. representation in all professional positions in its annual report to Congress, (2) evaluate its ongoing activities to increase U.S. representation, and (3) consider a pilot program to fund Junior Professional Officers (JPO), who are entry-level employees funded by member states, at UN organizations where the United States currently does not have any JPOs. In commenting on a draft of this report, State concurred with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a September 2010 letter, State concurred with the GAO recommendation and commented that it planned to seek additional summary information on nongeographic positions to include in its annual report to Congress on U.S. representation in UN organizations. State further noted in January 2011 letters to House and Senate oversight committees that State would be requesting Embassies and Missions to seek from international organizations information on nongeographic positions and State expected to incorporate some of these new data into its calendar year 2010 annual report. State's 2010 and 2011 report to Congress included data chart on American employees in UN organizations in all international professional positions. State's 2010 report noted that this additional reporting was recommended by GAO in 2010 and provided an additional perspective on American employment in international organizations. In State's January 2013 cables to embassies and missions, the department requested that missions include charts on the number of all internationally recruited professional positions, regardless of funding sources or geographic designation.

    Recommendation: To provide more complete information on the level of U.S. representation at UN organizations, the Secretary of State should include data on U.S. representation in all professional positions, similar to the information it currently provides on staff in geographic positions, in State's annual report to Congress on U.S. representation in UN organizations.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a September 2010 letter, State concurred with the GAO recommendation and commented that a key tool for making decisions on priorities and directions for some of its approaches will be its new Web-based tool, designed to enhance outreach to Americans on opportunities in the UN system. State further noted in January 2011 letters to House and Senate oversight committees that State had begun to evaluate its ongoing efforts to increase U.S. representation in UN organizations. State developed a participant questionnaire for use at information sessions to assess participants' awareness of State's services and the value of the information State provided to participants. According to State, the information from the questionnaire was used to assess State's focus and handouts to be used at future events. In addition, State compiled data on the number of new subscribers since the launching of its Web site in 2010, which showed an upward trend of the number of subscribers. State also conducted analysis to determine any correlation between State's outreach events and any increases to subscriptions to State's job alerts database.

    Recommendation: To improve U.S. efforts to increase the employment of Americans at UN organizations, the Secretary of State should develop a means to evaluate the effectiveness of State's efforts to increase U.S. representation. The evaluation should include an assessment of State's ongoing efforts such as its Web-based database for sending UN vacancy announcements to interested job candidates.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a September 2010 letter, State concurred with the GAO recommendation and commented that it would consider funding for JPOs at UN organizations in conjunction with other funding priorities. State reiterated its consideration to fund JPOs in January 2011 letters to House and Senate oversight committees. In January 2013, State signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations Associate Expert program (the UN Secretariat's version of JPO program) in January 2013. According to State, this marked the first time any agency of the USG has participated in this program and the first time that funding managed by State's International Organization Bureau has been used to fund a JPO or AE. State advertised for the AE position, recruited over 500 potential applicants to fill this position and the UN recently selected a candidate for this position.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should consider implementing a pilot program to fund JPOs at UN organizations where the United States currently does not have JPOs such as the Secretariat.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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