United Nations Organizations:

Enhanced Efforts Needed to Increase U.S. Employment at UN Agencies

GAO-07-1152T: Published: Aug 1, 2007. Publicly Released: Aug 1, 2007.

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Thomas Melito
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Office of Public Affairs
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This testimony discusses ways to improve the representation of American professionals at United Nations (UN) organizations. The U.S. Congress continues to be concerned about the underrepresentation of American professionals employed by some UN organizations and that insufficient progress has been made to improve U.S. representation. The equitable representation of Americans at UN organizations is a priority to Congress in part because the United States is the largest financial contributor to most of these organizations. Moreover, according to the U.S. Department of State (State), Americans bring desirable skills, values, and experience that can have a significant impact on UN organizations' operational effectiveness. This testimony is based on a report that we issued on September 6, 2006. This testimoney will discuss (1) U.S. representation status and employment trends at five UN organizations, (2) factors affecting these organizations' ability to meet U.S. representation targets, and (3) State's efforts to improve U.S. representation and additional efforts that can be taken.

The United States was underrepresented in three of the five UN agencies we reviewed, and increased hiring of U.S. citizens is needed to meet agreed-upon employment targets. Based on UN agencies' formal or informal targets for equitable geographic representation, U.S. citizens were underrepresented at IAEA, UNESCO, and UNHCR, and equitably represented at the UN Secretariat, though close to the lower end of its target range. UNDP had not established a target for U.S. representation, although U.S. citizens filled about 11 percent of the agency's professional positions. Given projected staff levels, retirements, and separations for 2006 to 2010, the Secretariat, IAEA, UNESCO, and UNHCR would need to hire more Americans than they have hired in recent years to meet their minimum targets for equitable U.S. representation in 2010. Summary While the UN agencies we reviewed faced some common barriers to recruiting and retaining professional staff, including Americans, they also faced distinct challenges. Most of these barriers and challenges were outside of the U.S. government's control. Six barriers common to UN agencies we reviewed included nontransparent human resource practices; a limited number of positions open to external candidates; lengthy hiring processes; comparatively low or unclear compensation; required staff mobility and rotation policies; and limited U.S. government support during Americans' efforts to obtain, or be promoted at, a UN job. These barriers combined with distinct agency-specific factors to impede recruitment and retention. For example, candidates serving in professional positions funded by their member governments were more likely to be hired by the Secretariat than those who took the Secretariat's entry-level exam; however, the United States had not funded such positions at the Secretariat. In addition, IAEA had difficulty attracting U.S. employees because the number of U.S. nuclear specialists was decreasing. State has increased its efforts to support the goal of achieving equitable U.S. representation at UN organizations, and additional options exist to target professional positions. State has targeted efforts to recruit U.S. candidates for senior and policymaking UN positions, and, although it was difficult to directly link State's efforts to UN hiring decisions, U.S. representation in senior and policymaking positions either improved or did not reflect a trend in each of the five UN agencies we reviewed. State also has undertaken several efforts to improve overall U.S. representation, including adding staff to its UN employment office and increasing coordination with other U.S. agencies that work with UN organizations. For positions below the senior level, State focused on "getting the word out" by, for example, disseminating information on UN vacancies through its Web site, attending career fairs and conferences, and other means. Despite these efforts, U.S. representation in entry-level positions declined or did not display a trend in four of the five UN agencies we reviewed. Additional options to target potential pools of candidates for professional positions include: maintaining a roster of qualified American candidates; expanding marketing and outreach activities; increasing UN employment information on U.S. agency Web sites; and conducting an assessment of the costs and benefits of sponsoring Junior Professional Officers (JPO), who are entry-level employees that are financially supported by their home government.

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