In order to meet the challenges of the 21st century and ensure Member States’ resources are used efficiently and effectively, the UN continues to update its operations and management practices. Changes have taken place in nearly every area of UN operations, from the management of UN peacekeeping missions, to improved transparency, accountability, and financial reporting mechanisms. Below is a selection of recently completed and ongoing UN strengthening and reform efforts.
Recent Steps to Enhance Effectiveness
In less than five years, the UN has created new mechanisms and achieved global consensus on enhancing UN operations through a number of reforms, including:
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, including replacing the UN’s information technology systems, establishing a new resource planning system that automates business functions and transaction costs, potentially saving the UN hundreds of millions of dollars, and adopting International Public Accounting Standards. The UN has also moved from print to electronic distribution of UN documents to reduce costs.
Ethics: An Ethics Office was created to manage the UN’s financial disclosure and conflict of interest policy and whistleblower protection policies as well as to provide mandatory training to UN staff on ethics practices and policies. Under the financial disclosure and conflict of interest policy, all UN senior officials and those staff with fiduciary responsibilities are required to report every year. The UN also put in force a whistleblower protection policy considered by the Government Accountability Project to be the “gold standard” among public institutions and is stronger than that of the U.S. government’s.
Peacekeeping Reform: The UN has begun implementing the Global Field Support Strategy, a five year project to transform the delivery of support to UN peacekeeping and political field missions by enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of services. The strategy better protects civilians and allows missions to deploy more quickly. The finance, personnel, logistics, and communications support previously housed in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has been separated out into the Department of Field Support (DFS) allowing DPKO to retain a focuses on strategy, policy, and planning.
Combating Sexual Exploitation and Abuse: The UN’s approach to addressing sexual exploitation and abuse among peacekeepers is now so advanced that NATO is consulting with UN officials on how to best deal with sex crimes. The UN has established mandatory conduct, discipline, and awareness training for all troops and staff through 14 Conduct and Discipline Teams and launched outreach campaigns to educate the local population on how to report allegations; moved investigators and support staff to regional hubs in order to speed investigation of allegations and reduce costs; followed up on every substantiated sexual abuse and exploitation case to ensure that all violators are repatriated; begun issuing quarterly press releases to make public statistics regarding sexual abuse and exploitation cases in field missions; and provided victims with assistance, including medical and legal care.
Delivering as One
The UN launched the Delivering as One reform initiative in 2007-08 in eight pilot countries. The initiative streamlines the work of all UN organizations operating in a country, reduces overlap, shares administrative costs, and implements programs together. Already UN agencies have begun working together under one roof. This has been so effective at cutting costs and creating efficiencies that over 20 additional country governments that asked to participate are now implementing it as well.
Four UN organizations addressing gender issues have consolidated into a single entity called UN Women, which started work on January 1, 2011. UN Women gives women’s issues a stronger voice while reducing overlap and enhancing policy coherence and financial efficiency.
The General Assembly reached consensus in 2006 on a Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy—the first time that all 192 UN member states have agreed to take specific measures to curb terrorist activity and to a common approach to fighting terrorism.
Democracy Fund (UNDEF)
First proposed by President Bush in a speech before the General Assembly in 2004, UNDEF supports projects that strengthen the voice of civil society, promote human rights, and encourage the participation of all groups in democratic processes. The large majority of UNDEF funds go to local civil society organizations—both in the transition and consolidation phases of democratization. UNDEF subsists entirely on voluntary contributions.
Ensuring Continued Progress on Reform in 2012 and Beyond
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon remains committed to a strong reform agenda in 2012, promising to continue building upon efforts already in progress to ensure that the UN can meet new demands and deliver vital services in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. Nevertheless, additional measures are needed to further strengthen the UN, and making sure these reform efforts are successful requires strong, consistent engagement by the U.S. Withholding funding from the UN budget in order to force reform would be more of an obstacle to reform than a catalyst to encourage it. This approach alienates our allies, whose support we need to push for additional changes, and sends a signal that the U.S. is more interested in weakening the UN than making it a more transparent and responsive institution