United Nations:

Observations on Reform Initiatives

T-NSIAD-99-196: Published: Jun 22, 1999. Publicly Released: Jun 22, 1999.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the status of initiatives intended to reform the United Nations (U.N.), focusing on U.N. efforts to: (1) unify and focus its organizational structure; (2) control its budget and institute new budget procedures; (3) improve oversight, program monitoring, and evaluation; and (4) improve its human resources management.

GAO noted that: (1) GAO believes that the Secretary-General has undertaken a serious effort to reform the United Nations to improve its relevance to member states and enhance its operational efficiency; (2) although clear progress has been made in some areas, the initiatives GAO examined have not been fully implemented; (3) progress has been made in unifying and focusing the organizational structure of the U.N. Secretariat, and the programs that are a part of the United Nations proper, to make the Secretariat a more cohesive management unit; (4) the Secretary-General appointed a deputy secretary-general to function as the chief operating officer and to strengthen internal coordination; (5) a senior management group, composed of the under secretaries-general and the heads of those programs that report to the Secretary-General, was also created; (6) this group meets weekly to ensure U.N. actions are unified and focused on the same objectives; (7) GAO has not yet tested the new structure's actual impact on improving program delivery and effectiveness; (8) this new structure does not include the specialized agencies, and the long-standing concerns about overlap, duplication, and coordination within the U.N. system as a whole are not being addressed by this organizational restructuring; (9) while budgets have been level for the past two bienniums, no fundamental changes have been made to the budgeting process to control the growth of the regular budget; (10) the process for developing budgets is largely unchanged, and, adopting regular budgets by member state consensus does not ensure control of budget growth; (11) although the Secretariat supports implementing results-based budgeting and sunset provisions, these measures have not been adopted; (12) an area where important improvements have been made is in the oversight of U.N. programs and activities; (13) the Office of Internal Oversight Services has established itself as the internal oversight mechanism for the U.N. Secretary-General and, based on GAO's continuing work at the United Nations, this office appears to have become an institutional part of the United Nations; (14) however, progress has been much slower in developing and implementing a monitoring and evaluation system to measure and report on program performance and effectiveness that would help member states make program decisions; and (15) to begin addressing what the U.N. Secretariat considered a crisis in its human resources management, it recently introduced several initiatives and adopted a strategy to carry them out.

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