United Nations officials are very upset about U.S. funding cuts to their budget. They see the announced $285 million reduction in America's contribution as a slap in the face and an affront to global cooperation.
So as not to hurt too many feelings, and in that very spirit of global cooperation, we want to offer a helping hand to the U.N. Specifically, we think we can help the U.N. find savings that will allow it to deal with this minor budget cut.
As we noted last week, the U.N.'s soaring expenditures represent exceptionally poor value both for taxpayers and for those the organization is supposed to be serving. That's why we applaud the announcement by Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., of a $285 million reduction of the U.S.' world-leading contribution to the U.N.
We endorsed the reductions as a wake-up call to the bloated body, and as a spur to reform. But where should the reforms and cuts come from? To start, programs and salaries.
On the program front, the most obvious targets are the U.N.'s bloated travel and management service disbursements, which comprise the highest sources of annual U.N. purchase orders.
The U.N. should hold fewer in-situ conferences. These events currently act as an excuse for hundreds of officials to travel from U.N. posts around the world and gather in a few days of jolly celebration. Why not set an example for national governments and hold teleconferences instead?
Next, the U.N. should eliminate, or at least shrink and remake, its propaganda arm, the Department of Public Information. By its own admission and its 63 offices around the world, this department exists to persuade individuals of the U.N.'s value. Neither Harry Truman nor taxpayers signed up for this.
Creative courage would also do wonders for the U.N.'s management consulting budget. Instead of paying private companies to tell U.N. bureaucrats how to do their jobs better, why not simply reform the U.N.'s leadership cadre? Why not, for example, make it easier to fire senior management officials if they fail to deliver on mission objectives and value for money?
The why, of course, is that doing so would upset the cozy status quo at Turtle Bay.
The status quo, however, needs some upsetting.
In the 2015-2016 U.N. peacekeeping budget, for example, civilian employee expenditures were equal to more than 50 percent of what it paid for military and police expenditures. That civilian proportion speaks to the U.N.'s bloated central management and its failure to push resources to the front lines. And again, it is innocent people who pay the highest price for this seemingly perpetual but utterly avoidable failure.
Incidentally, details are something the U.N. is not very keen on revealing: U.N. websites attempt to bury the details of wasteful spending in overly complex and necessarily long documents.
The U.S. government does a far better job on this concern. Responding to criticism for its waste and lack of accountability, the U.S. Agency for International Development has engaged in productive reforms in both operations and culture. USAID now describes itself as "a business-focused development agency focused on results" and has taken numerous steps to improve its delivery on mission outcomes. This includes its development of a user-friendly, interactive website which outlines where money has been spent, what it has been spent on, and what relevant programs have achieved.
Such innovation would be blasphemy at today's United Nations.
The U.N. prides itself on being "a great place to work." Maybe if it becomes more responsive and effective, it won't need such lavish compensation in order to attract and retain skilled workers.
The modest-sounding salaries are adjusted upwards by "locality payments," and then those are padded with an exceptionally generous employee benefits program. That offering includes top-notch health insurance and retirement plans, rental subsidies, generous hardship post allowances, "18 to 30 days of vacation a year," and "10 paid holidays."
Nor do the payment rates speak to the whole picture. Viewing the U.N.'s own statistics, we see a high proportion of older employees and a preponderance of its personnel in high-cost nations. In turn, it seems clear that many U.N. officials are actually earning well above $100,000 a year!
As Larry David might say, they've got a "pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good!" deal.
But it's not a good deal for us.
The U.N. can certainly do more with less. President Trump's budget cuts give them the opportunity to do just that.