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May 30, 2013

What's U.S. Taxpayers' Tab at the U.N.?

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Year after year, the U.S. pays more into the United Nations system than any other nation. Yet figuring out exactly how much we spend on the U.N. and its affiliated organizations is deceptively difficult.

Although most U.S. contributions come from the State Department, hundreds of millions of dollars also flow from other parts of the federal government. Thus, relying on State Department data fails to capture the full picture.

In 2006, Senator Tom Coburn addressed this issue by asking the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for a comprehensive report on total U.S. contributions to the U.N. system for fiscal years 2001 through 2005. The OMB is in charge of overseeing the preparation of the president’s budget, so it was in a position to require all U.S. agencies to report the requested information.

That 2006 report was an eye-opener. The OMB calculated that U.S. contributions totaled $4.115 billion in 2004 and $5.327 billion in 2005. By comparison, the State Department had estimated 2004 contributions at “well over $3 billion” — far short of the actual amount reported by the OMB.

Five years later, the OMB reported that FY 2010 contributions the U.N. system exceeded $7.691 billion — more than $1.3 billion higher than the previous record, set the year before.  Indeed, 2010 marked the third consecutive year in which U.S. contributions had reached a new high.

Unfortunately, the mandate requiring the OMB to report on U.S. contributions to the U.N. system expired in 2011, and the Obama administration has chosen not to report this information since then. As a result, there is no comprehensive accounting of U.S. contributions to the U.N. system for FY 2011 or FY 2012. Nor will we know how much will be spent this year or in the future, unless Congress renews the OMB report mandate.

Republicans Senator Mike Lee and Representative Mo Brooks have introduced legislation to fix this lapse. Whether you favor cutting U.S. contributions to the U.N. or increasing them, everyone should agree that good governance requires that the U.S. accurately track and report those contributions to Congress and the public. 

— Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in National Review Online's "The Corner."

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