Report: Kofi Annan Wants Some U.N. Duties Outsourced

Secretary-General Kofi Annan will ask U.N. member states to consider outsourcing some U.N. operations as part of an overhaul of the world body's management, according to an outline of his proposed reforms obtained by The Associated Press.

Annan's reform report, which is expected to be released Tuesday, calls for creating "a truly mobile international civil service" for the United Nations, whose management came under heavy criticism during the recent oil-for-food scandal and revelations of widespread sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers.

There has been speculation for months that the U.N. was preparing to embark on a major program of outsourcing, including its translation operations.

The report does not contain concrete proposals for outsourcing, according to the outline of key points obtained over the weekend. But Annan wants the General Assembly "to free up" existing limitations so outsourcing can be considered.

"We are particularly interested in exploring the benefits of possibly relocating certain administrative functions to lower-cost countries, but we will need to undertake a detailed cost/benefit analysis in each case," the document said, without giving specifics.

World leaders at the U.N. summit in September approved a modest blueprint for revamping the United Nations, including a host of management reforms ranging from a new ethics office to initiatives for making managers more accountable. Annan was asked to submit his proposals during the first quarter of 2006.

The United States has been pushing for a major management overhaul that would give the secretary-general more power and flexibility. But the 191-member General Assembly, dominated by developing countries, controls the U.N.'s purse strings and is not expected to give up any power easily.

The outline of the report stressed the dramatic expansion of U.N. operations in the past decade, including a fourfold increase in peacekeeping budgets and deployments since 1998.

Annan's report will call for $280 million annually to provide better pay and benefits for people in the field, where the U.N. Secretariat is having difficulty recruiting and training staff. The secretary-general will also request a doubling of funds for training and staff development "to address the significant under-investment over the years," the document said.

Another key element in the reform package is overhauling top management.

More than 25 departments and offices report directly to the secretary-general but the deputy secretary-general, whose position was created in 1997, has no statutory authority, the document said.

Annan will propose giving formal authority and accountability to the deputy secretary-general's office. He will also call on his successor to consider strengthening senior management and consolidating U.N. departments, the document said.

The secretary-general will propose an urgent upgrading of the U.N. information and communication technology system, which could cost up to $120 million over the next few years.

Despite significant investments, U.N. administrative systems "remain fragmented, outdated and underfunded," making it impossible to store, search and retrieve information quickly and effectively, the outline said.

Annan's report will also suggest a number of improvements in the way the U.N. buys goods and services, an area that has seen widespread corruption.

Touching on the contentious issue of the U.N. budget, now controlled by the General Assembly, the report will propose giving the secretary-general greater authority to redeploy posts and use savings from vacant posts.

The report will also address the time-consuming budget review process, which is currently not linked to the evaluation of program results. It will propose streamlining the plethora of accounts that hold voluntary contributions to U.N. programs, the nearly 40 separate peacekeeping accounts, and the problem of insufficient working capital reserves.

More than 270 U.N. reports on management and budget issues are produced every year, which the document calls "overwhelming." Annan's report will propose a consolidation.

World leaders had also asked Annan to propose a framework for a one-time staff buyout "to modernize and improve personnel structure and quality." The U.N. has studied the experiences of other organizations and still needs to finalize details of a proposal for member states, the document said.

But Annan's report will say the buyout package should first be offered to those whose jobs are affected by the management reforms.

"The report contains some indicative figures for a buyout — costing approximately $100,000 per individual," the outline said.