State Department:

U.S. Participation in Special-Purpose International Organizations

NSIAD-97-35: Published: Mar 6, 1997. Publicly Released: Mar 6, 1997.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO obtained information on U.S. government membership in 25 special-purpose international organizations and 2 inter-American organizations that received funding support of $10.8 million in 1995 through assessed contributions provided by the Department of State, focusing on: (1) the Department of State's efforts to assess whether U.S. government membership in these organizations continues to serve U.S. interests, including a summary description of the organizations' missions and issues that have been raised about the benefits of U.S. membership; and (2) steps that have been taken to keep the government's contribution costs low.

GAO noted that: (1) in May 1995, State began a comprehensive interagency assessment of U.S. membership in all of the international organizations to which it makes assessed contributions; (2) in May 1996, after being urged by Congress to prioritize its funding requirements for international organizations, State announced the criteria that it had used in 1995 in reviewing and evaluating U.S. membership in international organizations; (3) these criteria included the extent to which the United States directly benefits from the organizations' activities, how much of the organizations' budgets are devoted to activities benefitting the United States, the scope and depth of the organizations' constituencies, and their responsiveness to management improvement efforts; (4) in December 1996, State reported to Congress its decisions concerning the allocation of funds from the Contributions to International Organizations account for fiscal years 1996 and 1997 based on an assessment and prioritization of U.S. interests in these organizations; (5) State categorized the organizations according to a priority ranking based on the importance of their mandates to the U.S. national interest and their cost-effectiveness; (6) none of the 27 organizations discussed in this report were in State's top priority category, 4 were in State's second priority category, and 20 were in the third priority category; (7) GAO's interviews with U.S. agency officials indicate that all of the 27 organizations appear to have missions that are broadly consistent with a U.S. interest, but there were mixed views as to the value of the benefits the United States receives from membership; (8) the key concerns raised included the cost of membership in some organizations relative to the benefit received and that some organizations primarily benefit their related industries; (9) State has attempted to keep the U.S. government's assessed contributions to the special-purpose international organizations low; (10) it has sought actual reductions in their budgets, established a systematic coordination process with U.S. agencies having lead programming responsibility, and tried to secure more private sector contributions to these organizations; and (11) however, according to State officials, private financing of membership dues for these international organizations is generally not a viable option under their existing charters or State's funding policy.

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