EXCLUSIVE: U.N. 'Fast Track Opportunities' Do Little to Cut Costs, Improve Efficiency

Six months after United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged top staffers to come up with solutions to cut costs and improve efficiency, the U.N.’s bureaucracy has produced a list of “fast track opportunities” for change that do little more than cut down on paper use and force consultants—but not U.N. staff—to travel economy class on airplanes for business.

Among the less-than-bold proposals, which were sent in a slideshow presentation to selected top staffers for comment earlier this month:

--“issue a guide on holding paper-smart meetings to promote their use among delegates and Secretariat officials.”

--a “new policy to reduce travel expenditures” that insists on “economy class travel for non-staff,” or when staffers are travelling for self-improvement courses, plus a requirement that travel plans be made 16 days in advance.

--a centralized data-base for evaluation reports that reveal how well U.N. bodies actually perform their functions. Currently, these are scattered throughout the organization, and are largely inaccessible.

--streamlining procedures to cut the hiring time for U.N. peacekeeping officers from an incredible 691 days per officer to a still unspecified figure. One of the measures suggested for streamlining, however, is to cut out background checks—at a time when U.N. peacekeeping forces continue to reel from sexual abuse scandals in Haiti, Ivory Coast and Congo.

--a new draft policy on U.N. program support costs—meaning the money the world organization charges to administer programs. In short, a pay hike for itself.


Indeed, so watery is the fast-track list that at least one of the U.N.’s top-most officials in Geneva is worried that countries that pay for the bulky and bloated organization will react harshly when they see it.

In an email obtained by Fox News, the official, Andrey Vasiliyev, deputy executive secretary of the U.N.’s Economic Commission for Europe complained that “these Fast Track proposals....need to be made more appealing to countries, who may not consider refining of U.N. internal procedures as real reform measures.”

But the main improvement he then suggests is more semantic grooming. Compilers of the “fast track” list should “avoid proposing ‘guides,’ ‘surveys’ or ‘reviews’ in the list of Fast Track measures, but rather propose such measures directly whenever possible.”

That might make the U.N.’s reform list shorter, but it is very unlikely to make it more impressive, especially when it comes to how fast U.N. bureaucrats think the “fast track” is supposed to be, since Ki-moon ordered up those “creative and innovative” solutions last March.


--the new “guide” on paper-smart meetings is supposed to be ready just before Christmas this year, after three months of planned consultations and drafting, starting in September.

--a guide on “expected utilization of new virtual forms of communication technologies” to cut communications costs is anticipated on December 31.

--the new, centralized data base on evaluation reports will be “rolled out in 2012,” though the list-makers also warn that there is a risk program managers won’t use it.

--delivery of the streamlined police recruiting process itself may drag on from October 2011 to March 2012—and incidentally cause even further delays in the already glacial current process, and bureaucrats adjust to the new measures.

--even the support cost policy—where real U.N. revenues are involved—is projected to drag on for another half-year.

Vasilyev, for one, is unimpressed.

The evaluation data-base, he wrote on September 1, “does not seem to be a real reform measure. Likewise, on new virtual technology, he observed that “Just a ‘guide’ does not appear to be a reform measure.”


On the paperless meeting guide, he noted more acidly that “a coherent U.N.-wide policy seems to be missing.” And on cutting travel costs, he said, the U.N.’s proposal “needs to be more specific” and “focus on some novel and concrete measures”--like self-ticketing.

Overall, the Geneva bureaucrat saw a need “to be more specific and concrete in terms of expected results,” in part because the countries that pay the U.N.’s bills “are also looking for visible and tangible results.”

Nonetheless, almost everything he criticized was contained in the presentation circulated a day later. Secretary General Ban is expected to announce his change management program, including both “fast track” and longer-term measures, early in 2012, according to a U.N. spokesman.

George Russell is executive editor of Fox News and can be found on Twitter @GeorgeRussell.