United Nations:

Progress of Procurement Reforms

NSIAD-99-71: Published: Apr 15, 1999. Publicly Released: Apr 15, 1999.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the United Nations Secretariat's efforts to reform its procurement process, focusing on: (1) the types of procurement problems that the U.N. High Level Expert Group on Procurement and U.N. audit and inspection organizations found; (2) progress on the implementation of the Expert Group's recommendations and other reforms to correct procurement-related problems; and (3) whether these actions have succeeded in achieving the objectives of procurement reform.

GAO noted that: (1) the U.N. Board of Auditors, the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services, and the High Level Group of Experts have pointed out numerous problems in the operations of the U.N. Secretariat's procurement system; (2) these problems involved issues concerning all elements of an effective procurement system, such as lack of competition, with over 50 percent of contracts not competed in the past, and accountability, with confusion over responsibility and authority leading to inconsistent application of rules; (3) many of these findings refer to the period prior to 1996, but some findings have been more recent; (4) to correct these and other problems, the Secretariat established the Expert Group; (5) in 1995, the Secretariat adopted the Expert Group's recommendations as the framework for procurement reform and has since made considerable progress in implementing the recommendations and taken other actions to improve its procurement system; (6) for example, evidence developed by U.N. audit and inspection organizations indicates that the Secretariat has strengthened accountability by designating clear lines of authority, improved competitive practices by increasing the percentage of contracts that are awarded through competitive bid, and strengthened the fairness of the process by publishing common specifications for goods procured by the U.N. system; (7) while the Secretariat has made progress in reforming its procurement system, action in several areas is incomplete, and the overall systemic objectives sought by the High Level Expert Group have not yet been achieved; (8) while the Secretariat now competes most contracts, competition is still not completely open because sufficient time is sometimes not given for vendors to prepare bid proposals; (9) other steps recommended to help ensure transparency and accountability, such as developing a procurement manual for all to use, are partially completed; (10) also, the Expert Group's overarching objective was to create a continuously improving procurement system; and (11) achieving this objective will be difficult until the Secretariat has developed performance measures to indicate whether it is reaching its targets on: (a) timeliness in processing requisitions; (b) on-time delivery of goods and services; and (c) quality and cost of contract performance.

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