At a closed-door meeting late last month in Turin, Italy, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon blasted his top officials, accusing them of crippling the world body through a combination of self-interest, petty squabbling and egoism.
"We all know the U.N. is a huge bureaucracy," Ban told the assembled senior officials. "Coming here, 20 months ago, that prospect did not bother me. …
"Then I arrived in New York. There is bureaucracy, I discovered — and then there is the U.N."
Ban's Aug. 29 remarks, which were posted on a U.N. watchdog Web site and confirmed by FOX News to be accurate, came just weeks ahead of the Sept. 16 opening of the U.N. General Assembly, and less than a month before a high-level event convoked by Ban to promote the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals. That program is intended to dramatically cut world poverty, promote the status of women and reduce illness, especially HIV/AIDS, by 2015.
With all those looming deadlines, Ban told his top officials that he was frustrated by the foot-dragging within the U.N. as it struggles toward the halfway point of its Millennium project, announced in 2000.
"We get too bogged down in internal or bureaucratic technicalities," he told the heads of 27 U.N. organizations, funds and programs known as the U.N. System Chief Executives Board for Coordination.
"We waste incredible amounts of time on largely meaningless matters."
Since taking office nearly two years ago, Ban has publicly taken stands against internal corruption and for greater efficiency within the U.N. bureaucracy.
Ban's method was his own example. He took the unprecedented step in January 2007 of making his personal finances entirely public and urged other top officials to do the same, and of announcing his intention to run system-wide audits to look for violations of U.N. financial rules throughout the organization.
But he has evidently been frustrated and hamstrung by bureaucratic resistance to his initiatives, which have led to less than impressive results and, in some cases, to various parts of the U.N. declaring themselves exempt from central Secretariat control and oversight.
"I tried to lead by example," Ban said, noting his embrace of mobility inside the U.N. and his nearly complete replacement of entrenched workers on his staff. "Nobody followed."
Ban called on the officials to address stagnation, and announced the launch of a program to enforce mobility and regulate worker turnover, which he said was nearly nonexistent.
"We must acknowledge how resistant we are to change," he said. "It cripples us in our most important job: to function as a team."
Ban told his department heads that they "squabble among themselves over posts and budgets and bureaucratic prerogatives as though as they somehow owned them," and he prescribed a series of simple measures to combat what he called self-interest and turf wars that hamper the U.N.'s effectiveness.
If that doesn't lead to a more efficient organization, Ban warned, he may resort to a dramatic staff shakeup. He might "mobilize by fiat and simply direct [U.N. departments] to simply swap 20 percent of their staff."
It remains to be seen whether Ban's cajoling will have any effect — or whether he will go through with the "shock therapy" that he jokingly threatened to impose on his staff.