The UN is not a perfect institution, but it serves a near-perfect purpose: to promote global cooperation and address some of the world’s most pressing challenges that no single country can resolve alone.
The UN is always looking at ways to reform its work and ensure it’s maximizing every dollar it spends. Reforms have been enacted in every area of UN operations, from the management of peacekeeping missions, to tougher ethics rules, to streamlined budget processes, to delivery of humanitarian aid. However, making sure these reforms are a success takes engagement by all member states and positive U.S. leadership—along with that of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Ongoing Steps to Reduce Costs and Enhance Effectiveness
In December 2013, the General Assembly approved the UN’s core budget for 2014-2015, cutting spending from the UN’s previous two-year budget, following the budget reduction trend seen in the previous two-year span. The new budget also included a two percent staffing cut, translating to approximately 221 posts, and a one-year freeze in UN staff compensation.
Aside from budgetary issues, the UN has created new mechanisms and continues to enhance UN operations through a number of reforms, including:
The UN now makes all internal audit reports issued by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) publicly available online. This development followed similar decisions by UNICEF, UNDP, and UNFPA. The U.S. Mission to the UN has called this new commitment to transparency “a turning point in how the UN does business.”
The last several years have witnessed a number of important reforms and advancements in UN peacekeeping operations. For example, the UN recently finalized implementing its Global Field Support Strategy, a five-year project (2010-2015) aimed at improving the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and speed of administrative and logistics support to UN peacekeeping and political missions. This reform has delivered important dividends, including a $250 million reduction in operational costs for peacekeeping missions in the 2013-2014 peacekeeping budget versus the 2009-2010 period, despite the fact that the same number of uniformed personnel were operating in the field.
In addition to this ongoing initiative, important changes have taken place in the way UN peacekeepers are evaluated and paid. Starting in 2014, as much as $50 million in annual bonuses will be paid to peacekeepers and UN member states that set a positive example—serving with distinction in high risk areas or providing key services such as medical care, engineering, or air support. These are some of the UN’s first attempts at pay-for-performance, and could lead to better outcomes for UN missions and the people they serve.
Management and Oversight Reforms
The UN has strengthened oversight, doubling the capacity of its audit and investigations’ body and making procurement investigations a permanent feature. The UN has also stopped issuing permanent contracts to new employees, overhauled the internal justice system, and expanded public access to budgets, audits, and procurement information. The General Assembly approved a package of reforms to enhance accountability, and adopted International Public Sector Accounting Standards, which will improve the quality and transparency of financial reporting with the UN. The UN has also moved from print to electronic distribution of UN documents, resulting in significantly reduced printing costs.
The UN Ethics Office continues to manage the UN’s financial disclosure policy and whistleblower protection policies as well as to provide training to UN staff on ethics practices and policies. The financial disclosure policy enacted widens the scope of individuals who must report.