Task Force: U.S. Has Chance to Push U.N. Reform

A congressional report on the United Nations calls its management "ossified" and questions whether U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) can overcome inertia, low morale and micromanagement as he pushes sweeping reform.

The report from a bipartisan task force, obtained Monday by The Associated Press, said recent U.N. scandals — from sex abuse by peacekeepers (search) to allegations of corruption in the Iraq Oil-for-Food (search) program — give the United States a rare opportunity to push for reform at the United Nations.

Among dozens of recommendations, the task force calls for the U.N. to develop a rapid reacting capability to quash threats of genocide (search); set up an independent auditing board; and institute weighted voting on financial issues for members who contribute larger portions of the U.N. budget. Its contents were first reported by The New York Times.

"As it approaches its 60th anniversary, the United Nations needs reform and reinvigoration," the report said. "Otherwise, the organization risks declining credibility, and its own future will be at risk."

The task force was led by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, and former Senate Majority leader George Mitchell, a Democrat. Its report was scheduled to be released Wednesday.

The group is one of several congressional investigations of the United Nations. A U.N.-appointed panel chaired by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker (search) is finishing up a lengthy inquiry into the oil-for-food program as well.

The Gingrich-Mitchell report is far less critical than many of the pronouncements made by congressional Republicans, reflecting its bipartisan makeup. Notably, it cites U.N. officials' receptivity to change and backs many of the reform proposals Annan laid out in his report "In Larger Freedom" in March.

Annan hopes world leaders will enact the reforms at a summit set for September.

It does not endorse Republican-proposed legislation before Congress seeking to tie U.N. reforms to U.S. payment of dues to the world body, saying reform may be possible without blocking U.N. funding.

Yet the report highlights a fundamental problem in the United Nations — that U.N. initiatives are often stymied by its own member states in gatherings such as the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council.

Currently, member states who collectively pay less than 1 percent of U.N. dues comprise more than two-thirds of its membership, giving them power to block initiatives they don't like.

"Too many countries with too little on the table have too much to say in decision making," the report said.

And its criticism of U.N. management is blunt. It describes one staffer describing the internal justice system as "royally screwed up."

The panel said that in its meetings with U.N. staff, it heard "frequently grim accounts" of missed chances for reform, bad management and poor accountability or transparency.

"Staff may remain in the same job for years or decades and often resist efforts to transfer them, particularly if a transfer would mean leaving New York or other desirable locations," the report said. "Morale is dismal."

U.N. officials refused to comment on the substance of the report.

"Our reform efforts are well underway and we continue to support them actively, but we are interested to see what this group has to offer," Annan spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

The task force backed many of Annan's recommendations to overhaul the world body, including his proposal to create a more powerful, permanent Human Rights Council composed of democracies which would replace the current Human Rights Commission which has been severely criticized because its members include countries tainted human rights records such as Libya and Zimbabwe.

It essentially urged the United Nations to enact U.S.-style corporate management practices.

The U.N. should create the equivalent of a chief operating officer to oversee the daily operations of the U.N. Secretariat, while any future secretary-general should have strong management skills. Rules should make it much easier to fire staff who perform poorly, the report said.

While calling for strong U.S. leadership for reform, the report questioned how much can be done given inherent problems with the United Nations such as micromanagement by member states and the difficulty of shedding poor performers.

It noted that the United States first called for management reform back in the 1940s, just after the U.N. was created. So far, the reforms it has implemented haven't been good enough and the world body remains burdened by an "ossified managerial structure," the report said.

"Decades of reform effort have frequently stumbled on political shoals or bogged down under the weight of the institution's enormous inertia," the panel said.

The reform report called for U.S. leadership to overhaul the United Nations. It cast past change of the world body as chiefly work that was done thanks to U.S. pressure.