Management Reform in the UN: Between Politics and Efficiency

by Joachim Müller[1] based on Reforming the United Nations: The Struggle for Legitimacy and Effectiveness (2006)

International Organizations Law Review, Volume 2, pp. 417-436, 2005

Abstract: Management reform in the United Nations has been a frequent concern in the public debate. Although a multitude of initiatives were launched, the result remains disappointing. A string of management reforms are described, emphasizing the most recent ones introduced under the Secretary-Generals Kofi Annan and Boutros Boutros Ghali. Particular attention is given to initiatives following the Volcker inquiry into the alleged mismanagement and corruption under the United Nations Oil-far-Food program. The review concludes with the management reforms approved during the recent World Summit in September 2005. Since the creation of the United Nations, management reforms have been driven from outside the Organization, by member countries and here in particular by the United States. Proposals to improve management are often closely linked to overriding political concerns. The negotiation process militates towards lowest common denominator; with the Secretary-General of the Organization taking a cautious approach and attempting to facilitate the reaching of consensus. While recognizing the challenge to reconcile the different priorities of 191 member countries, recommendations are put forward to facilitate a more proactive approach by the Secretariat. Management reform in the United Nations is seen, however, to remain a cumbersome and lengthy step-by-step process.


The Context of Management Reform

The United Nations Organization is in need of management reform. There has always been widespread agreement that this is the case -- indeed throughout the 60-year history of the Organization. The United Nations has been judged to be inefficient, with a bloated bureaucracy and incompetent staff. Recently, allegation of mismanagement and corruption has led to a crisis of confidence. There has been a series of reform efforts, originating mainly in the United States, to improve productivity and relevance through reorganization or reengineering. These have been presented as technocratic goals but were often accompanied by suspicion concerning the motivation behind such reform proposals -suspicion of a hidden agenda. Indeed, calls for increased efficiency have also been used by those who argue that the United Nations has become too powerful and that it over-regulates the global economy. At the same time, the United Nations has been described as talking shops where nothing gets done. In the name of management reform, efforts have been put forward to downsize the Organization by de-emphasizing economic and social activities as well as shifting priorities in the direction of human rights, the promotion of economic privatization, and political democracy. Recently, new concerns have been expressed about the perceived lack of accountability and openness in international institutions. Whereas, developing countries have traditionally been strong supporters of the United Nations, management reform proposals have been scrutinized with regard to their perceived impact on the role of the United Nations in development, covering issues of governance, trade and technical co-operation. Opposition to management reform have been voiced in case such changes appear to make the United Nations less representative by reducing the size of governing bodies or focus on merging organizational entities and identifying duplication of activi ties. Management changes which seem to make the Organization increasingly interventionist are strongly rejected. In this politically charged discussion, it is the role of the Secretary-General to propose and implement management reforms. Indeed, according to Article 97 of the United Nations Charter, the Secretary-General is the chief administrative officer of the organization.


Previous Efforts in Management Reform

The United Nations Organization was established to provide peace and security, foster economic and social development and promote human rights. It is a complex and fragmented organization with a global presence and 191 member states which forms part of highly decentralized United Nations system.[2] Among its main governing bodies are the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The Secretary-General heads a Secretariat of international civil servants, who organize and support the work of the governing bodies. The work aims to regulate the conduct of the international community. Governing bodies also instruct the Secretariat to carry out specific tasks. This can range from carrying out peacekeeping operations, to humanitarian and refugee operations, to technical co-operation projects in developing countries.

In the first years after the founding of the United Nations, the Secretariat decentralized from New York to regional centers in Geneva, Bangkok, Addis Ababa and Santiago de Chile. In addition, a number of activities became semi -independent from the United Nations Secretariat such as UNICEF, which was setup already in 1946. New management challenges came with the development of peacekeeping measures. The United Nations first experience with the new peacekeeping instrument came in 1949 in the Middle East and one year later in the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan.

East-West antagonism during the 1950s triggered the Soviet Union to demand management changes with a political overtone. At that time, the United States and its Western allies constituted an overwhelming majority within the United Nations. The socialist states charged that the independence of the Secretariat should be ensured by replacing the post of Secretary-General with a troika of one representative each from the socialist states, the Western military alliance and the non-aligned states. It was further argued that peacekeeping operations were staffed with persons from NATO countries and socialist countries were rejected in technical cooperation with developing countries so to further the influence of Western industrialized nations over the countries of the third world. The situation escalated when the Soviet Union and its allies refused to share in the cost of peacekeeping operations. The General Assembly appointed a group of experts in 1961, which resulted in an approval of a number of management changes. Whereas demands for curtailing the independence of the Secretary- General’s were rejected, agreement was reached by providing a greater share of Secretariat post for persons from socialist countries and new arrangements were introduced to fund the cost of peacekeeping operations. A review of the efficiency of the Secretariat suggested to curb the growth of expenditure and to cut the number of posts.

Decolonization created rapid growth in United Nations membership, and by 1965 membership stood at 118, twice as many as at it’s founding. With states from Africa and Asia joining the United Nations, development issues became of increasing importance, resulting in the expansion of the technical co-operation programs. This let to the creation of new bodies and programs, particularly the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), establishedin1965,which was to provide the framework for technical cooperation with developing countries. Initiated by the Governing Body of UNDP, Sir Robert Jackson was requested to develop proposal for building up the management capacity of the United Nations system in order to facilitate the delivery of technical co-operation.[3] Proposals aimed at giving UNDP a coordinating role in the United Nations system, with all funding for development projects to be channeled through UNDP to the specialized agencies. The lack of global planning and priority setting was to be addressed through developing ECOSOC into a central forum for economic questions. Specialized agencies rejected the curtailment of their independence and member states showed very little interest in centralization. Some headway was made in improving the work of UNDP itself by the introduction of country program planning. UNDP offices were set up in developing countries.

Towards the mid-1970s, the United Nations was increasingly becoming the forum for global negotiations on issues involving development. Whereas technical cooperation remained of highest importance for developing countries, development was to be achieved by addressing new issues such as trade and development, energy, a common funds for raw materials, industrialization, the transfer of technology, a code of conduct for transnational corporations, the Law of the Sea Convention and the establishment of a New International Economic Order. Negotiations on these issues, between developing states, organized as the Group of 77, and the industrialized countries, took place within the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). On the insistence of developing countries, the General Assembly established a group of 25 experts to adapt the governance and organizational structure of the United Nations system for addressing the economic and social problems of developing countries.[4]

Under a compromise reached in 1977, it was agreed that the role of the General Assembly would be strengthened as supported by the Group of 77, however without the addressing the key demand to vest in the General Assembly control over the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The post of Director-General for Development and International Economic Cooperation was created, albeit without the powers and means that had been wished for by developing countries. In ECOSOC and UNCTAD, things remained the same. The Group of 77 blocked any reduction in the number of committees demanded by industrialized countries, while the industrialized countries prevented any upgrading of UNCTAD. Whereas the Soviet Union supported the call for a New International Economic Order, the United States argued that were reform was really needed was in management, planning and coordination. On balance, the 1977 compromise must be viewed as an example of a half-hearted attempt at reform.

Thereafter, political confrontation became all pervasive. Disappointed third-world countries deplored the “ignorance of the minority”, while the indus trialized countries deplored the “tyranny of the majority”. From the beginning of the 1980s the Reagan Administration and the United States Congress were less and less willing to support the United Nations, following the adoption of some decisions which it construed as anti-Western and contrary to its national interests, leveling accusations of politicization and mismanagement of the organization. Specifically, the United States called for a change in United Na tions budget practices. The United Nations budget is approved by a two-thirds majority of all member states, all votes having equal weight. The countries making the largest financial contributions, including the United States, were often outvoted on budget questions. The United States reacted by withholding payments and demanded voting power proportionate to its contribution in the approval of the budget.

With the financial withholding resulting in a budget crisis, the General Assembly entrusted a group of 18 experts to review the United Nations administrative and financial efficiency.[5]  Recommendations were approved by the General Assembly in 1986, including a new two-tire budget procedure. A new outline budget was introduced sketching priorities and appropriations one year prior to approving the detailed budget in order to involve member countries at an earlier stage of the budget process. In addition, the new outline budget was to be approved by consensus gives a greater weight to those paying the larger quotas. Discussion on the budget process revealed similarity of interests between East and West in major areas. The major obstacle to unity was the attitude of the third-world countries, many of who perceived a threat to the principles of sovereign equality and of majority decision-making. Other decisions covered the reduction in the number of posts by 15 percent and the merging and restructuring of organizational entities in the political, economic and information services area. A number of recommendations were not implemented, such as the proposed reduction in staff benefits and entitlements or the simplification of the ECOSOC committee structure. The introduction of the new consensus-based budget process, budget reductions and management reforms gave way to a greater convergence of views among member states during the second half of the 1980s and paved the way for major changes to come.


Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali

The end of the Cold War resulted in a rediscovery and renaissance of the United Nations. The perceived new opportunities were addressed by a host of new reform initiatives, including government-sponsored efforts, proposals by heads of government, groups of ambassadors, non-governmental organizations and individual experts. All these studies were submitted in 1992 to incoming Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, who took office at the time when the Security Council was displaying hitherto unaccustomed unity. The Secretary-General was called upon to work out ways of reforming and reinforcing the Secretariat structure in the area of peacekeeping. He responded by presenting the Agenda for Peace[6] contained suggestions for reform in the area of preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. With many of his proposals, the Secretary-General was breaking new ground, in particular, with the idea of preventive deployments, establishment of demilitarized zones, dispensing with the principle of consensus observed hitherto and allowing interventions without the agreement of all the parties and even in situation of internal crisis. Originally deemed as going too far, the Agenda for Peace gave direction and allowed new activities such as the deployment of United Nations troops in Somalia. The United Nations experienced an unprecedented increase in peacekeeping and highlighted the need to introduce management reforms at the operational level. The new emphasis on peace and security also created interest in a reform of the Security Council.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali forcefully reorganized the Secretariat in 1993. A series of independent units in the economic and social domains were consolidated into three major departments and a number of senior posts were reduced. The funds thus released were allocated for the strengthening of the security area. Part of the restructuring also consisted of canceling the post of Director-General for Development and Economic Cooperation, whose creation had been a central concern of the Group of 77 in the 1970s. In December 1993 member states agreed to reduce the number of bodies for the supervision of development programs. As demanded by the group of developed countries, the UNDP and UNICEF governing councils were replaced by smaller executive councils. Following on a key concern of the United States, Boutros Boutros-Ghali agreed to establish the Office of Internal Oversight Services to be responsible for audit and investigation. Finally, he merged United Nations representations in mem ber-states and gave them a more comprehensive mandate which also includes political briefs. As quasi-United Nations ambassadors, they were to underpin the authority of the Secretary-General and contribute to a better coordination of United Nations work. The developing countries strongly criticized the creation of United Nations representations as interference in their national sovereignty. Moreover, they were disappointed over the restructuring of the Secretariat, in which they perceived a contraction and weakening of the economic and social areas in favor of the security priorities of industrial countries. In fact, there was a widespread feeling that development had been marginalized.

At the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in 1995, the environment had changed with astonishing speed. In the wake of disappointment in peacekeeping, there was a sharp retreat from assertive multilateralism. Faced with increased reluctance by the United States Congress, the Clinton Administration took a more cautious approach. Reform proposals emphasized the need to reduce budget provisions, increase efficiency and effectiveness, streamline intergovernmental bodies, and de-emphasis programs considered not in the American interest. As in the 1980s, the demands for reform were coupled with the renewed withhold ing of funds. A new factor came into play. As the sole remaining superpower, the United States was increasingly retreating from multilateral solutions, not engaging in new peacekeeping operations, and insisting on a reduction in its contributions to the United Nations budget.

Response to the new concerns included the launch of negotiations for an Agenda for Development as counterpart to the Agenda for Peace. Towards the end of his term, Boutros Boutros-Ghali introduced major budget reductions by cutting about 10 percent of the staff. The General Assembly approved towards the end of his term, procedural and structural measures to improve the workings of the General Assembly and its subsidiary bodies as well as the Secretariat. Some of the more controversial proposals were later taken up by subsequent reform efforts, such as proposals to establish the position of Deputy Secretary- General. However, further initiative for management reform now had to await the new incoming Secretary-General.


Secretary-General Kofi Annan

The appointment of Kofi Annan as Secretary-General in 1997 provided the chance for a new start. In his acceptance speech, he outlined his goals to make the United Nations leaner, more efficient and more effective, more responsive to the wishes and needs of its members and more realistic in its goals and commitments. Jesse Helms, Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, presented demand for change. They included demands for the cessation of United Nations encroachment on the sovereignty of nation-states, major budget reductions, a change in the budget process, and an overhaul of peacekeeping. The Helms-Biden agreement called for zero-growth budgets and reductions in the United States assessed contribution.

Soon after taking office, Kofi Annan introduced new management mechanisms by establishing a cabinet-style body to assist him and by grouping thirty United Nations departments, funds and programs under four sectoral areas: peace and security, economic and social affairs, humanitarian affairs and development. An Executive Committee was established to coordinate the work of each. The Committees were later linked directly to the Secretary-General’s Office through the establishment of a Senior Management Group composed of the heads of all United Nations departments, funds and programs. The Group improved coordina tion and coherence within the United Nations family. In practice, however, it proved too large for effective and timely decision-making. In May 2005, two new senior committees, chaired by the Secretary-General, were created, one dealing with policy and the other with management issues. The limited-size committees were seen to ensure clear, action-oriented outcomes with better definition of responsibility areas and timelines for implementation.

After six months in office, Kofi Annan issued his report on Renewing the United Nations: A Program for Reform[7] which was endorsed by the General Assembly.[8] The report presented new initiatives, recommendations advanced by one of the numerous study groups and carried forward reforms previously launched by his predecessor. Key proposals included the establishment of a position of Deputy Secretary-General, a 10-percent reduction in posts, a reduction in administrative costs from 38 to 25 percent, the establishment of a development account funded through savings and the introduction of a performance-based management culture. In order to address more fundamental problems, the Secretary-General proposed to hold a Millennium Summit and Assembly in 2000 and to review new concepts of trusteeship and for the governance of the United Nations system. Reorganization, consolidation of efforts at country level and reaching out to civil society and the private sector as partner was at the centre of the reform effort.

A string of reorganization efforts started right at the outset with the merging of three departments into one Department of Economic Social Affairs as well as consolidating Vienna-based activities into the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The work and structure of the Department of Public Information was reoriented to convey the United Nations story with more vigor and purpose. In early 1998, the Department for Disarmament Affairs was established and in August 1998, a Strategic Planning Unit within the Office of the Secretary-General. In September 1999, the Geneva-based human rights programs were merged into a single Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In tandem with the consolidation of the human rights office, steps were taken through the Senior Management Group and the Executive Committees to integrate human rights advocacy into peacekeeping and development and other areas of United Nations operations.

The consolidation at the country level covered the country teams of United Nations funds, programs and specialized agencies operate in over 100 develop ing countries. In 1997, they occupied mostly separate offices. To save money, to improve operational synergy and to project a unified image of the United Nations, the teams were instructed to move as rapidly as feasible in the direction of sharing common office space and utilizing common service providers. By 2005, nearly 60 common United Nations Houses had been established in the developing countries, each occupied by three or more agencies. Other efforts focused on strengthening the role of Resident Coordinator as leader of United Nations country teams. Two additional tools were established to facilitate coordination and to bring United Nations assistance more closely into line with the priorities of the host countries: a Common Country Assessment, which clarified national needs, and a United Nations Development Assistance Framework, setting out the division of labor among United Nations entities in assisting governments to promote development and to implement goals from the United Nations global conferences. In recent years, a large number of country assessments and development assistance frameworks have been completed with some form of joint programming in over 100 countries.

Reaching out to civil society and the private sector as partner was an innova tive initiative. In 1997, the Secretary-General challenged corporations that were beneficiaries of globalization to meet their responsibilities as global citizens. Under the terms of the Global Compact that he later proposed, participating business were to put into place activities to advance core values of the United Nations in the areas of human rights, labor standards and the environment. By 2005, more than 300 businesses participated. The new openness of the United Nations to civil society and the private sector has produced gains in a number of areas. One outcome was the establishment in March 1998 of the United Nations Fund for International Partnership established by a Ted Turner donation of $1 billion, which supports programmes in the areas of childrens’ health, population and women, environment and peace, security and human rights.


Millennium Summit 2000

Initially proposed as part of the reform agenda of the Secretary-General, the Millennium Summit was held in September 2000 and attended by the unprec edented number of 144 heads of state or government. The summit approved the Millennium Declaration. Major commitments were pledged to achieve development and the eradication of poverty, including precise targets to be reached by the year 20 15. In addition to the political declaration, the Millennium Assembly approved a number of organizational matters.

At the end of 1999, following recent failure in peacekeeping, the Secre tary-General had convened a blue-ribbon panel to come up with practical and achievable prescriptions for future peace operations. The report of the Panel on Management Reform in the United Nations United Nations Peace Operations (Brahimi Report)[9] recommended sweeping changes in peacekeeping strategy, doctrine and operations. The prescription was for greater numbers of well-equipped and well-trained troops, whenever a credible military posture is required. The panel argued for more support staff at Headquarters, a stronger political, financial and material support from the Member States, particularly members of the Security Council. At the same time, it set more stringent standards for judging the performance of peacekeepers in the field and at Headquarters. The Millennium Assembly responded positively, approving a 50 percent increase in staff for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and nearly US$150 million for equipping the United Nations Logistics Base in Brindisi, Italy. To provide more flexibility in management and logistics, the Secretariat delegated greater authority at the field level. As part of the changes in the peacekeeping management and on the insistence of developing countries, gratis personnel attached to the Secretariat under the sponsorship mainly of developed countries were phased out. The Millennium Assembly also approved a new scale of assessment in December 2000. In accordance with the conditions outlined in the Helms-Biden agreement, the United States assessment for the regular budget was reduced from 25 to 22 percent in exchange for the payment of arrears. The decision was seen as putting the United Nations back on a solid financial footing for the years to come. Moreover, after a long process of negotiations, the Assembly approved the introduction of results-based budgeting.

Finally, the reform of the human resources management had also been submitted to the Millennium Assembly for consideration. Recruitment process averaged an unacceptable 400 days. The newly proposed selection system aimed for a period closer to 90 days while giving more precedence to merit and competence and less to tenure. The system gave program managers the authority to select their own staff, as part of a compact with the Secretary-General that also holds them accountable for delivery of key activities and results. The new system was implemented in early 2002 despite concerns that pushing greater responsibility for decision-making downward toward the operational level would prevent achieving equitable distribution of national representation among staff and improving gender balance. Recent experience with the new system indicated significant progress in improving the timetable to recruit staff as well as an increased pool of qualified candidates for United Nations positions. Human resources reform also addressed the issue of staff mobility. To produce a more versatile and multi-skilled civil service, time limits were being placed on post occupancy and incentives were provided for duty station postings away from Headquarters. United Nations managers received intensive training in people management, in tandem with the introduction of a new personnel appraisal system. In order to strengthen the internal staff justice system, the office of the Ombudsman was established at the end of 2001 and an informal mediation process was being put into operation.

In September2002, the Secretary-General’s second major package of reform An Agenda for Further Change[10] was approved by the General Assembly.[11] The efforts aimed principally at ensuring that activities of the United Nations were aligned with the priorities decided upon in the Millennium Declaration. The Department of Public Information was restructured by replacing nine individual centers by a regional office in Brussels. Other issues covered the strengthening of human rights and the subsequent approval of procedural improvements to the United Nations’ system of budgeting and planning. In February 2004, the Government Accountability Office of the United States issues an assessment of United Nations reform, indicating that 85 percent of the 1997 and 2002 reform package had either been fully or partly implemented.

With a sharp escalation in threats against United Nations personnel over the past decade, the security of United Nations staff became an overriding concern. In view of the tragic attack on the United Nations office in Baghdad on 19 August 2003, proposals for a major overhaul of the United Nations’ security system were submitted to the Assembly. The Assembly had already endorsed the Secretary-General two-year program for reinforcement of the United Nations Security Management System back in 2000, by installing a basic level of standards in all United Nations duty stations as regards plan ning, staff training, telecommunications and security equipment. A full-time United Nations Security Coordinator at the Assistant Secretary-General level was appointed in August 2002. Additional improvements were put in place in 2004 by dedicating resources for protection of staff as well as establishing a clear chain of command and division of labor, followed by the approval of the further package of enhancements for the United Nation’s system of security management by the General Assembly in November 2004.


The Volcker Inquiry and Instances of Alleged Misconduct

In early 2004, the United Nations faced an unprecedented series of allegations of mismanagement and corruption which exposed major flaws in the way the United Nations was doing business. United States Senator Norm Coleman was instrumental in establishing in April 2004 the Independent Inquiry Committee. The Committee, headed by Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve System, was charged by the Secretary-General and the Security Council with the task of thoroughly reviewing the management of the United Nations Oil-for-Food program. With $69billion, that program was the largest, most complex and ambitious humanitarian relief effort in the history of the United Nations.

In response to the Volcker Inquiry, the United States Congress launched numerous investigations into the United Nations Oil-for-Food program, which at one time included five committees in the House of Representatives; also holding hearings about other revelations of sexual exploitation in peacekeeping mission and the misconduct of senior officials and harassment in the workplace. This became the new priority. United States Administration pushed for a strong package of United Nations management reforms in the area of fraud prevention, oversight and accountability.

In December 2004, the United States Congress established a bipartisan Task Force, chaired by Newt Gingrich and George Mitchell, to report on how to make the United Nations more effective in realizing the goals of its Charter. One of the five areas covered in the work of the Task Force was to develop recommendations to ensure the effectiveness, integrity, transparency and accountability of the United Nations system. The Task Force presented its report in June 2005.[12] The Task Force strongly supported the creation of an Independent Oversight Board that would function in a manner similar to a corporate independent audit committee. Other recommendations included the call for additional resources for the Office for Internal Oversight Services, effective protection for whistleblower, access to oversight reports by member states, the establishment of a Chief Operating Officer in charge of daily operation, a greater say of the larger contributors in budgetary matters, more flexibility for the management of staff, establishment of an Office of Personnel Ethics and zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers. There were a multitude of other proposals such as support for United Nations field offices to move towards common services, simplification of project funding arrangements, application of new business models for delivering assistance, greater emphasis on external evaluation and support for the budget increases for a number of activities and offices.

Shortly after the Task Force issued its report, the House of Representatives passed the United Nations Reform Act for 2005 calling for the automatic with holding of 50 percent of its regular United Nations dues unless the Organization adopted specific reforms. When introducing the Reform Act, Henry Hyde, Chairman of the Committee on International Relations, noted that “we are opposed to legendary bureaucratization, to political grandstanding, to billions of dollars spend on multitudes of programs with meager results, to the outright misappropriation of funds represented by the emerging scandal regarding the Oil-for-Food program.”[13] Measurable reforms were demanded in the area of budget, streamlining and prioritizing of programs, oversight and accountability, peacekeeping and human rights. Specifically, the Hyde legislation urged the shifting of programs from the regular assessed budget to voluntarily funded programs, weighted voting on budgetary and financial matters, the introduction of sunset provisions for programs, the creation of an Independent Oversight Board, the designation of the Office for Internal Oversight Services as an independent entity within the United Nations and expansion of its mandate to cover specialized agencies, procedures for providing protection to whistleblower, the creation of an Office of Ethics, ceasing the issuance of single bid contracts, the adoption of a new Code of Conduct for personnel serving in peacekeeping missions, global audit of all peacekeeping operations, establishment of the posi tion of Chief Operating Officer, access by member states to report and audits, streamlining of committee structure, review of mandates older than five years, modernization of human resource practices, including rotation requirement and reductions in travel allowances.

A second legislation on United Nations reform was introduced in the United States Congress in July 2005 by Senators Norm Coleman and Richard Lugar. The legislation supported institutional changes in the management of programs like oil-for-food, in financial oversight and human rights monitoring. Unlike the automatic withholding mandated in the Hyde bill, the Coleman-Lugar legislation did not foresee automatic withholding of dues but would give the President the option to do so if reforms were not implemented. The Bush Administration was supportive of most of the Gingrich-Mitchell Report and provisions of the Hyde and Coleman-Lugar legislations. The latter, however, was considered more workable. Automatic withholding was seen to infringe on the President’s authority to conduct foreign affairs. Moreover, withholdings to achieve specific reforms was seen to undermine the efforts to play the leading role in reforming the United Nations.

In the light of issues raised by the Volker Committee and the investigations by the United States Congress, the Secretary-General had immediately initi ated direct responses to the demands which were being formulated. Reviews were commissioned to benchmark the system of procurement against the outside practice. Failure in the leadership of senior officials also highlighted by the Volcker Inquiry was traced back to the opaque selection process for senior officials. A new system was proposed to help build a new generation of United Nations senior leaders, recruited on the basis of merit and skills. Once appointed, senior officials were to go through a formal induction programs on the broader system of United Nations rules, regulations, codes of conduct and managerial systems.

In response to allegations of sexual misconduct by field personnel, the Office of Internal Oversight Services undertook a review on the state of discipline in peacekeeping missions in April 2005. Immediate efforts were launched to introduce a unified standard of conduct across all categories of peacekeeping personnel, to integrate training into all mission induction programs and to establish complaints mechanisms in all missions. Personnel Conduct Officers were appointed in missions and plans include the significant strengthening of the United Nations’ investigative capacity and the creation of conduct units in all peacekeeping missions.

A large number of additional efforts addressed the main concern: oversight and accountability. This includes efforts to develop a comprehensive anti-fraud and corruption policy drawing on best practices, including the model recently developed by the World Bank. Policy to protect whistleblowers was being developed to protect against retribution and enable staff to come forward with confidence. Financial disclosure required of senior officials were expanded and additional rules were developed for staff engaged in procurement activities, coupled with the formulation of a United Nations Supplier Code of Conduct. New policies covered the provision of pro-bono goods and services offered to the United Nations and increasing transparency and access to United Nations documents from outside the Secretariat, while ensuring confidentiality where needed. The existing policy on addressing harassment was extended beyond the issue of sexual harassment and the issue of ethical contract was included into staff training programs. Responding to demands by United States Congress and Administration, the Secretary-General recommended a comprehensive external review to strengthen the independence and authority of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, while ensuring that it was fully equipped in terms of resources and expertise to carry out its work.

In order to monitor individual offices and managers, a Management Perform ance Board was created, chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General. In addition, an Oversight Committee was established to ensure that appropriate management actions were taken to implement the recommendations of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the Board of Audit and the Joint Inspection Unit. A new tracking system was being piloted for better follow-up of the 500-plus important audit recommendations issued each year. The Management Performance Board and the Oversight Committee first met in summer 2005.


In Larger Freedom: World Summit 2005

In March 2005, the Secretary-General presented his report In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All[14] for submission to the World Summit. The report drew on the recommendations advanced by the 16-member High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change[15] established by the Secretary-General and on the work of the Millennium Project,[16] which produced a plan of action to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. It also reflected the demands developed in the United States in response to the Volcker Inquiry and instances of alleged misconduct. The report In Larger Freedom included an ambitious reform package, a new global deal to tackle the challenges of development, security and human rights and options for a reform of the Security Council. To support the implementation of the new global deal, the Secretariat was to become more flexible, transparent and ac countable. Those management improvements were seen to be part a longer-term series of reforms launched by the incoming Secretary-General in 1997. When compared to those initial efforts and the high expectation, however, the new proposals were rather modest. The General Assembly was requested to endorse the review of all mandates older than five years to see if the activities were still needed. This proposal had already been under consideration for decades, but implementation failed to result in major program adjustments. In many cases, objections to the discontinuation of specific mandates had been raised by member countries. Approval of a staff buyout plan was proposed so as to refresh and realign the staff. The United Nations had already gone through a number of buyouts in particular during financial crisis. Success of such buyouts had been questioned. In addition, member states were requested to work with the Secretary-General in a comprehensive review of the budget and human resources rules. This was clearly overdue and did not appear to need the approval or involvement of member countries. The two remaining proposals called for the endorsement of the package of management reforms recently launched in the area of accountability, transparency and efficiency and the commissioning of a comprehensive review of the Office of Internal Oversight Services to strengthen its independence and authority. The later proposal had already been put forward to the General Assembly in November 2004. The management reform proposals initiated or proposed by the Secretary-General were given general support by the Gingrich-Mitchell Task Force inJuly2005, such as the establishment of the Management Performance Board, the proposal to review all mandates dating back five years or more and even support for a buyout plan.

The Volcker Committee issued its final report[17] in early September 2005 just before the start of the World Summit, concluding that the Secretary-General, the Security Council and the United Nations agencies that ran the program had not been “up to the truly extraordinary challenges” of the task. It was stated that United Nations had allowed “illicit, unethical and corrupt behavior” to overwhelm the operation. It was further noted that “an adequate framework of controls and auditing was absent”, that there were “instances of corruption among senior staff as well as in the field” and that “the Organization requires stronger executive leadership, thoroughgoing management reform, and more reliable controls and auditing.” The Volcker Committee recommended creation of the position of United Nations Chief Operating Officer to handle management responsibilities for the Secretary-General and the formation of an Independent Auditing Board which should go beyond financial audits and review the staffing and budgeting of accounting and auditing services.

            Prior to the World Summit, budget and management reforms were considered priority number one for the United States.[18] The proposals of the Secretary- General were considered not sufficient and too little. In particular with regard to accountability, the United States wanted to boost the resources and independence of the Office of Internal Oversight Services and expanding role for the Office in peacekeeping and small agencies. Other proposals included a clear mandate for the Oversight Advisory Committee, a clear policy on waiver of immunity, the consolidation of United Nations Information Centers, the rationalization of conferences and a follow-through on the Secretary-General’s own call that old mandates be regular reviewed before extension. As a new proposal, the United States was further prepared to increase the authority of the Secretary-General in the area of staff management. 

The World Summit to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations concluded in September 2005 with the adoption of the World Summit Outcome.[19] The most ambitious effort -- the reform of the Security Council -- had failed and been abandoned after nine months of negotiations. The Summit managed, however, to agree on a number of issues.[20] With regard to management reform, the Summit recognized the ongoing efforts of the Secretary-General to strengthen accountability and oversight, improve management performance and transparency and reinforce ethical conduct. The role of the Secretary-General as the chief administrative officer of the Organization was reaffirmed and willingness was expressed to consider upgrading his managerial authority in setting priorities on spending and mandates. This was not welcomed by some developing countries which feared that such a delegation of authority would reduce their control over the budget process and major management decisions.

The Summit took a number of decisions in principle and requested the Secretary-General to provide additional details on a host of reform proposals during the first quarter of 2006. This included requests for detailed proposals on an assessment of the budgetary, financial and human resources policies, regulations and rules for improving the efficient conduct of work. Other requests included details on the framework of the proposed staff buyout, including an indication of costs involved and mechanisms to ensure that it achieves its intended purpose. In response to the proposal by the Secretary-General, the Summit pledged to review all mandates older than five years during 2006. Finally, the Summit recognized the urgent need to substantially improve the oversight system and pledged to significantly strengthen the expertise, capacity and resources of the Office of Internal Oversight Services as a matter of urgency. The Secretary-General was requested to submit an independent external evaluation of the United Nations system auditing and oversight arrangement and proposals on the creation of an independent oversight advisory committee. This had been the key concern of developed countries, in particular the United States.

Following the conclusion of the Summit, the United States argued that the management reforms requested by the Secretary-General and the United States had been replaced by generalities. It was now left to the upcoming General Assembly to flesh out proposals such as the establishment of a strong code of ethics, the enhancement of whistleblower protection, more extensive financial disclosure for United Nations officials and stronger internal oversight. United Nations Ambassador John Bolton concluded by stating “This is not the end of the reform effort. It really is the beginning of a permanent reform effort that must be underway here at the United Nations.”[21]


Concluding Comments

It is a small number of member countries, which drive management reform in the United Nations. The key player is the United States, not only due to its prominent role within the United Nations, but also due to the key interest in the issue. Over a number of decades, United Nations Congress has launched hearing, established task forces and approved legislations with regard to management reform of the United Nations. A number of member countries view management reform skeptical and guard against possible limitations of their prerogatives.

Over the history of Organization, the Secretary-Generals have attempted to integrate and consolidate the external reform initiatives into a consistent plan for management reform. For new Secretary-Generals, this has been easier during the early part of their term. Nevertheless, the aim remained consensus and the price to pay was the adjustment of proposals to the lowest common denominator. Those reform initiatives have been watered down even further in the subsequent process of negotiations between member states. Fragmenta tion of the Organization provided additional barriers in the implementation of management reforms. With regard to reform issues that fall entirely under the responsibility of the Secretary-General and do not require approval by the governing bodies, this cautious approach is maintained. Governing bodies are requested to endorse and take note of reform initiatives, which are often modest, and of limited impact.

Reconciling the different priorities and national interests of 191 member countries is the basic challenge for the management reform at the United Na tions. To do that requires perhaps the extraordinary circumstances of a catalytic event, such as the end of the Cold War, which allowed for the revitalization of the United Nations during the early 1990s. It might also require a group of visionary leaders who are prepared to enter into the necessary compromises. In the absence of those, the logic and promise of a grand bargain as attempted during the World Summit is destined to be opposed. Recognizing those structural limitations, some principal decisions can be taken to facilitate management reform in the United Nations. First, the idea of designating the Secretary-General as Chief Executive Officer is a good one and implies that real management authority is delegated from member states to the Secretary-General. Second, limiting the appointment of the Secretary-General to a single term, possibility of seven-year duration, would enhance the independence of the office and the ability to implement decisive management reforms in a proactive fashion. Management reform in the United Nations will continue to remain, however, a cumbersome and lengthy step-by-step process.

[1] Director, Resource Management Department, World Meteorological Organization. Dr. Müller has been a staff member of the United Nations system in the management area since 1984. Previous publications include Reforming the United Nations: The Quiet Revolution (2001) and Reforming the United Nations: New Initiatives and Past Efforts (1997) issued by Kluwer Law International in co-operation with the United Nations. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions with which the author is affiliated.

[2] The United Nations Organization has a regular budget of $3.1 billion for the biennium 2004-2005, excluding peacekeeping operations, funded by assessments from member states. In addition, the Organization receives for specific activities voluntary contributions of $4.0 billion for the biennium. Staff total 16,500, with 9,000 funded from regular budget and 7,500 from voluntary contributions. Moreover, the Organization includes a number of programs and funds to address specific issues such as the United Nations Children’s Emergency fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Program (WFP). Although under the authority of the General Assembly, many have governing bodies and budgets paid for by contributions from participating member countries. Finally, the United Nations system includes, alongside the United Nations Organization, a number of independent specialized agencies, each with its own intergovernmental bodies and Secretariat, such as the Food and Agricultural Organization, the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization are among the biggest.

[3] A Study of the Capacity of the United Nations Development System, United Nations document DP/5, 1969.

[4] A New United Nations Structure for Global Economic Cooperation, United Nations document E/AC.62/9, 28 May 1975.

[5] Efficiency of the Administrative and Financial Functioning of the United Nations, United Nations document A/41/49, August 1986.

[6] An Agenda for Peace, United Nations document A/47/277-S/24111, 17 June 1992.

[7] Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for Reform, United Nations document A/51/950, 14 July 1997.

[8] United Nations Millennium Declaration, General Assembly Resolution 52/12, 8 September 2000.

[9] United Nations Peace Operations, Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, United Nations docnment A/55/305-5/2000/809, 21 August 2000.

[10] Strengthening of the United Nations: An Agenda for Further Change, United Nations document A/57/387, 9 September 2002.

[11] Strengthening of the United Nations: An Agenda for Further Change, General Assembly Resolution A/57/300, 20 December 20 American Interests and UN Reform, Report of the Task Force on the United Nations, United States Institute of Peace, June 2005.

[12] American Interests and UN Reform, Report of the Task Force on the United Nations, United States Institute of Peace, June 2005.

[13] Hyde Introduces UN Reform Legislation, News Release, Committee on International Relations, United States House of Representatives, Washington, 9 June 2005.

[14] In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All, Report of the Secretary-General, A/59/2005, 21 March 2005.

[15] A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, Report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, A/59/565. December 2004.

[16] United Nations Millennium Project 2005, Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development GoalsOverview, 2005.

[17] Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil-for-Food Program,, 7 September 2005.

[18] R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, United States Department of State, On United Nations Reform, Testimony as Prepared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Washington, DC, 21 June 2005.

[19] 2005 World Summit Outcome, United Nations document A/60/L.1, 20 September 2005.

[20] Issues addressed included acceptance of the collective international responsibility to protect population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, major additional resources for development, clear condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, push for a comprehensive convention against terrorism within a year, creation of a Peacebuilding Commission, agreement to establish a United Nations Human Rights Council to replace the Human Rights Commission, doubling of the budget for the High Commissioner for Human Rights and support for the new Democracy Fund.

[21] Judy Aita, World Summit Concludes with Declaration of U.N. Goals, USINFO.STATE.GOV, 16 September 2005.