United Nations:

Status of Internal Oversight Services

NSIAD-98-9: Published: Nov 19, 1997. Publicly Released: Dec 10, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the operations of the United Nations (U.N.) Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), focusing on whether OIOS: (1) is operationally independent; (2) has the necessary resources to carry out its mission; and (3) has written policies and procedures in place for conducting its work, following up on its recommendations, and providing confidentiality to informants and protecting whistleblowers from possible reprisal. GAO noted that its lack of direct audit authority resulted in certain limitations and restricted its ability to fully address the review objectives.

GAO noted that: (1) OIOS is the internal oversight mechanism for the U.N. Secretary General; (2) although OIOS had some start-up and early operational problems, many of these seem to have been resolved; (3) this was difficult to do in an organizational environment that operated without effective internal oversight mechanisms for almost half a century; (4) in less than 3 years, OIOS has assimilated four preexisting, internal oversight units from the Office for Inspections and Investigations and, for the first time, hired professional investigators and provided other resources for an investigations unit in the United Nations; (5) OIOS' mandate, the Secretary General's Bulletin establishing OIOS, and OIOS' implementing procedures provide the framework for an operationally independent, internal oversight mechanism for the U.N. Secretariat; (6) however, without access to all its audit, inspection, and investigation reports, working papers, and other records and files related to OIOS work, GAO could not test whether OIOS exercised its authority and implemented its procedures in an independent manner; (7) one issue that may affect the appearance of OIOS' independence involves how it has implemented its reporting mechanism; (8) OIOS has provided only 39 of its 162 various reports to the Secretary General and the General Assembly or its committees; (9) initial concerns about inadequate budget and staff levels have been addressed; (10) since its establishment, OIOS' regular U.N. budget has increased from $12 million to $18.6 million (proposed for 1998-99), and its authorized positions have increased by 18, to a total of 123; (11) OIOS' audit division and the Investigations Section have developed written auditing and investigative policies and procedures; (12) however, the Central Monitoring and Inspection Unit and the Central Evaluation Unit do not have comparable manuals; (13) each OIOS unit tracks its recommendations and is responsible for determining when they should be closed out; (14) in its 1995 and 1996 annual reports, the Under Secretary General (USG) for Internal Oversight Services estimated OIOS had identified $35.5 million in potential recoveries and realized $19.8 million in savings and recoveries; (15) OIOS' Investigations Section has established procedures and developed guidance, which it has publicized throughout the United Nations, for ensuring informants' confidentiality and protecting whistleblowers from reprisal; and (16) in discussions with the USG for Internal Oversight Services, GAO suggested several ways to enhance OIOS' future operations.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its response to GAO's report, State noted that the USG for Internal Oversight Services has: (1) clarified the criteria for deciding which reports will be made available externally; (2) provided briefings upon request to member states, including the United States, and listed all of its reports, published and unpublished in its annual summary report; (3) issued guidelines for self-evaluations by department managers; and (4) incorporated comments made by program managers in response to findings and recommendations contained in OIOS reports. While more could be done (such as providing additional guidance for periodic in-depth evaluations), the actions OIOS has taken essentially address GAO's suggestions.

    Recommendation: Although OIOS has made considerable progress in resolving some initial operational problems, the USG for Internal Oversight Services can do more to help maintain OIOS' independence and establish the office as the authoritative internal oversight mechanism the General Assembly intended OIOS to be. GAO suggested some actions that could be taken by the USG for Internal Oversight Services in this regard. To help focus attention on these matters, the Secretary of State should encourage the USG for Internal Oversight Services to address the noted suggestions.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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