EXCLUSIVE: U.N. Preps Management Changes as Ban Moves to Contain Outcry Over His Oversight

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Published January 06, 2012

| FoxNews.com

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is preparing to unleash a spate of executive actions aimed at stemming what his underlings have called a “crisis of confidence” in his 43,700-member Secretariat. But much of Ban’s efforts appear to be merely cosmetic, or sometimes intended to patch up previous U.N. management disasters.

Fox News has obtained a draft copy of the proposals that were assembled at Ban’s behest by a special “Change Management Team” of top officials over the past nine months. Among the 62 initiatives sent to the Secretary General:

--a hiring freeze that could last through all of 2012, or even longer. This would, however, leave Secretariat staffing at levels that are already the highest in U.N. history.

--a review during the freeze of all U.N. Secretariat departments and proposals to “better integrate and rationalize their work across the Secretariat.” All that is supposed to take place before the end of this year, but there is no time limit mentioned for how long it would take for the results to be “evaluated.” The freeze would continue during the evaluation.

--establishment of a “three signature rule” to stream U.N. approval processes. Currently, the document says, the U.N. can require as many as nine signatures before action is approved.

-- outsourcing of about 10 percent of Secretariat jobs to “local, national or international partners” “to enable the Secretariat to do more with scarce resources.” The deadline for that is 2016. The document also recommends that the U.N. establish “new legal models of collaboration for establishing public-private partnerships more easily,” presumably over the same period.

--another target of 10 percent of jobs to be streamlined into “shared or common services” among the hodge-podge of Secretariat departments and offices—or, alternatively, their relocation to “more optimal”—read, cheaper—locations than the main U.N. headquarters offices in New York City, Geneva and Vienna. This too is expected to take until 2016.

--a travel clampdown that would demand high-level approval to send more than two staffers away to U.N. meetings. It also proposes a new emphasis on video-conferencing. And it would require Ban’s top managers to fly economy-class “to demonstrate leadership on this issue,” a formulation that implies other U.N. staffers can then decide whether to follow their leaders or not.

The official aim of Ban’s upcoming exercise is to create a “modern, engaged and efficient Secretariat, transparent and accountable in its work, responsibly stewarding resources to deliver high-quality results, building confidence in the U.N. and its ideals,” according to a draft report that lays out the “long term vision” behind the reforms, as well as the 62 proposed measures intended to alter the situation.

The more realistic objective of the exercise is to squelch rising unhappiness about the U.N. among the relatively small number of wealthy nations that pay most of its bills, and bring some measure of cost-cutting and managerial effectiveness to an often ineffectual, ungainly but still fast-expanding organization that has stumbled badly at its most recent high-profile efforts at modernization. The Secretariat cost nearly $17.2 billion to run during 2010-2011, and could easily do the same during its next biennial budget period of 2012-2013.

On Christmas Eve, the U.N. General Assembly passed a $5.15 billion version of its “regular,” or core biennial budget for 2012-2013, and Ban himself hailed the result as a major step forward in fiscal discipline. In fact, the initial budget, which will be revised upwards as the next two years roll on, is only about $44 million, or 0.8 percent, less it was at the same stage two years earlier. Over strong U.S. objections, the new budget still contained 3 percent cost of living increases for New York staff, even though their U.S. government counterparts are living with an overall salary freeze. The U.S. contributes 22 percent of the “regular” total. Meantime, the U.N.’s “non-core budget” in 2010-2011 ran to 2 ½ times the core budget, and something similar is likely this year.

Ban’s proposals for change are surprising sometimes due to the fact that they need to be spelled out in an organization that is 65 years old and claims to hire the cream of the world’s international civil service.

One change proposal, for example, is that senior U.N. managers “include the contribution to the learning of others”—training of their subordinates—“as an integral component of their own performance appraisals,” effective this year.

Another says that managers should actually make use of an already-developed “induction course” for newcomers to the system, in order to help neophytes learn their jobs. (Such a course for middle managers doesn’t exist, but, the change management team say, will “be developed as soon as possible.”)

When it comes to the U.N.’s notorious “culture of impunity,” the change managers have proposed that Ban announce that he might withhold routinized pay hikes, or even termination of employment contracts, of staffers who fail to improve their job performance. Until now, apparently, neither one of those sanctions was part of the U.N. arsenal.

But before doing anything that drastic, the change management team suggests, in time-honored U.N. fashion, that the Secretariat’s human resources managers do a study “in order to develop a more effective system of rewarding and sanctioning staff on the basis of performance.”

The list of initiatives for Ban’s “modern, engaged and efficient” Secretariat include a number of demands imposed in a scathing General Assembly critique of the Secretariat’s highest-profile, high-tech fiasco, the much-delayed installation of a state-of-the-art computer and software system touted as the “cornerstone” of U.N. reform.

The $315 million system, known as Umoja, is three years behind its original schedule, its management structure is in chaos. Ban himself was ripped in a report by the Assembly’s most important budget advisory committee for his “failure of management” and failure to assign accountability among his underlings for the disaster.

The advisory committee demands for Umoja’s management overhaul and accountability for the fiasco are now enshrined in the change management committee’s proposal list.

Some of Ban’s change management proposals, however, may still surprise the Assembly budget advisory committee, which has complained in the past that Ban’s budget do not contain pieces of pertinent information needed to analyze them. In the detailed version of its report, the “change management” team says that Ban’s budgets “contain a surfeit of information at very detailed levels,” and need to “become more strategic,” meaning that the detailed approach is likely to be pared down. The team proposes the first of the newly formulated “strategic” budgets for 2014-2015.

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL REPORT

A bigger problem is that many of the efficient-sounding proposals on Ban’s list have been chewed and re-chewed several times since the “change management” process began in March, and sometimes have been tepidly received by U.N. staffers asked to comment on them. Some, however, have also been sharpened as a result.

In September, for example, Fox News revealed that a number of “change management” proposals-- such as issuing a “guide” for paperless bureaucratic procedures--were pooh-poohed by a top-level U.N. staffer as being unlikely to be seen as very impressive, or even as reforms. LINK HERE TO http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/05/31/internal-documents-reveal-emergency-cost-cutting-efforts-urgent/

The compilation sent to Ban for action, by contrast, now contains a clear deadline for converting the Secretariat into a paperless environment—2015.

George Russell is executive editor of Fox News and can be found on Twitter@GeorgeRussell.Click here for more stories by George Russell

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http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/01/06/exclusive-un-preps-management-changes-as-ban-scrambles-to-contain-outcry-over/