October 8, 1984

October 8, 1984 | Backgrounder on International Organizations

GAO's UNESCO Report Card: A Failing Grade

(Archived document, may contain errors)

386 October 8, 1984 GAO'S UNESCO REPORT CARD A FAILING GRADE INTRODUCTION The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) has completed the final draft of its review of the management, budgeting, and person- ne1 'practices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and a I .I V I uic= u~yaiii~a~iuii aiiu VI uiuac rcapuiiau~~c LUL ~urlrrrrry AL. AI the GAO audit were a report card, UNESCO would be failing the course.

The tone and style of the audit are restrained, factual, and objective. Its 177 typed pages contain few startling o r eye- catching phrases. But its very sobriety makes the cumulative effect of its findings all the more convincing. the review, the picture that emerges is of an organization that is grossly mismanaged: enormous power vested in one man; govern- ing bodies that do not, and cannot, govern; no effective evaluat in9 and coordinating systems; programs with no clearly defined objectives and na target dates for completion; hiring practices that circumvent the Organization's own regulations and undermine the profe s sional integrity of the staff; little accountability for the money disbursed; the increasing concentration of staff at headquarters; payments made in contravention of the Organiza- tion's rules; and the recommendations of external auditors repeat- edly ig nored.

The GAO review was requested by the House Committees on Foreign Relations and on Science and Technology in March 1983, on the initiative of Congressman James H. Scheuer (D-NY It followed the American decision, announced on December 29, 1983, to with draw from UNESCO at the end of 19

84. Motivated by a concern that Congress should have a sound basis on which to evaluate that decision, Scheuer called in the GAO, which has an impressive reputation for solid, impartial work. The review is the outcome of six months' work by a GAO team at UNESCO headquarters in Paris At the end of 2 The review does not give, and did not set out to give, the whole UNESCO story. question of the'politicization of UNESCO's work, the role of ideology in the formulation of its p r ograms, the significance of its generous support for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO or the use of UNESCO as a Soviet espionage base. It restricts itself to management, budgeting, and personnel practices. Even within those limits, it has accept e d a further important self-denying ordinance, in that it has not examined matters pertaining specifically to the propriety of UNESCO Director-General Amadou-Mahtar MIBOW'S own behavior. Despite the serious charges that have been made against MIBOW by repu t able observers, such matters as the misuse of travel and other expense funds, the use of patronage for political purposes, and nonpayment for the personal use of UNESCO premises and facilities were not addressed. Even so, the GAO audit indicts the current state of UNESCO and those responsible for it It does not consider such matters as the THE MAIN FINDINGS OF THE AUDIT Excessive Centralization The audit finds UNESCO to be a "highly centralized" organiza- tion, with power concentrated in the hands of the D i rector-General, who makes "most substantive and many routine decisions relating to the Organization's operations. Among the consequences of this centralization, the review says, are delays in making routine, decisions, inflexibility, and the stifling of c r eativity and innovation. The Director-General and some officials explain this centralization by saying that ['lower-level officials have refused the responsibilityll; but other officials claim that it results from the fact that lllower-level staff perceiv e that the Director- General wishes to retain all decision-making authority two explanations are not mutually exclusive: believe that the Director-General wants to keep all decision-making power in his hands, they might well consider it prudent to refuse r e sponsibility-especially if, as is the case, most of them do not enjoy security of tenure the Secretariat dominate the General Conference and the Executive Board (composed of representatives of member states and, nominal- ly, the governing bodies of UNESCO ) . The General Conference "has become very dependent upon the Secretariat, which sets its agenda, guides its pace, and drafts many of its resolutions The Execu- tive Board, which has no staff, "is viewed as complacently accept- ing the program and budget p r ovided by the Secretariat" and "relies heavily on the Director-General for direction and manage- ment of UNESCO's proqram and operations UNESCOfs program plans reflect the Secretariat's (i.e the Director-General's) views more than those of member states. T he governing bodies do not exercise effective oversight of the Organization's work and are provided with little information on program activities These if staff do indeed As the Director-General dominates the Secretariat so does 3 This picture of excessiv e centralization fully bears out the allegations of dictatorial control made by numerous critics and denied by the Director-General, who has insisted repeatedly that he merely carries out the wishes of member states. Thus, although the audit is too polite to make the point explicitly, it is clear that a main responsibility for the failures of UNESCO lies with the Director-General, who dominates and shapes its affairs.

Personnel Management The audit notes the following trends in staff composition and managem ent 1. Concentration in Paris headquarters. Ten years ago UNESCO1s staff was split evenly between headquarters and the field; today over 70 percent are in headquarters. proportion of UNESCO employees working in Third World countries, as opposed to Paris, h as declined very considerably 2. The comparative decline of professional staff. Ten years ago UNESCO's staff was divided 50:50 into professional and support (general service) personnel renewable contracts over permanent employment. By 1983, 90 percent of t he professional staff was on contracts running only two to three years. Such an arrangement, of course, keeps a staff intimidated That is, the Today the ratio is 40:60 3. The increasing preference for short, fixed-term, but 4. Alongside its regular method of recruiting staff, UNESCO has established a second ltinformalll system that enables the Director-General to sidestep regulations concerning qualifications and procedures. casual employees. should only be made on an exceptional basis and should not excee d three months in the case of professionals or one month in the case of general service personnel. circumvented In 1983, UNESCO hired 2,363 temporary employees, who worked an equivalent of about 695 staff years. Further it makes a regular practice of layin g individuals off for a few days at the end of a contract and then rehiring them. The extension of this system into a general practice contravenes UNESCO rules and enables normal criteria and procedures to be bypassed. system opens the way for extensive us e of patronage and undermines the integrity and professionalism of the staff 5 226 regular professional posts had been vacant an average of 18 months. a long period, it is assumed that it is no longer needed and should be abolished This involves extensive hiring of temporary or UNESCO rules state that such appointments These provisions are routinely This Long delays in filling vacant posts.

In other U.N. agencies, when a post is left unfilled for As of last December Proqram Planninq, Coordination and Evalua tion UNESCO1s program planning routinely fails to identify speci- fically what the Organization will provide, when it will complete 4 its activity, and who will benefit from what it does. systematic control over program growth of its program activity. of s elf-evaluation, which carries the obvious risk of bias. Governing bodies are not given sufficient time or information to evaluate programs duplication, which was recently found to exist in 57 of the Organization's 186 subprograms There is no There is no e f fective system for evaluating the effectiveness What evaluation there is takes the form There is no adequate means of coordinating activity to avoid The Budaet The GAO audit supports the charges by Western critics that UNESCO1s budget is so confusing and o paque that it is difficult for member countries to make sense of it. States the audit: the presentation of the current budget did not clearly show how and why it had changed from the pre- ceding budget. As a result it was difficult for member states to de termine in what areas and by how much the budget had actually grown from the previous period.

In other words, the budget does not convey the basic informa- tion it is meant to convey to the governing bodies and those who supply the money.

Fiscal Manaqemen t The audit finds that I3 controls over payroll are inadequate, so that "employees are paid without a positive confirma- tion that they actually worked 0 some $14 million has been dispensed with "little accountabilityi1 and l'only a minimal assurance from recipients that the funds were used for the in- tended purposes1 0 payments have been made by the Director-General to sistent with Executive Board rules1' and to General Conference delegates "without a clear policy having been established a member of the E xecutive Board that were Ilincon 0 money budgeted for one purpose has been used for a variety of other purposes money given for UNESCO fellowships does not require any positive confirmation, such as a university 5 transcript, that the funds have been used for the intended purposes Policies, held in Mexico City in July 1982) budgeted at $54,800 actually cost over 10 times that amount, and the Director-General did not even bother to inform the Executive Board of that fact 0 a conference (The World Conference on Cultural UNESCO and Its External Auditors Recommendations made by the external auditors to improve the management of the Organization have been repeatedly ignored, or agreed to but not implemented.

IMPLICATIONS OF THE GAO REPORT The GAO audit confirms Washingtonls complaint, when it announced its decision to withdraw from UNESCO, that trends in the Organization's management and budget detract from its effec- tiveness and lead UNESCO away from the original principles of its constitution. of the Organiza t ion-including a change in the top management- between now and the end of the year, the U.S. should stick with its decision to leave UNESCO on December 31, 1984 Short of some miraculous and sweeping clean-up For some, this is an appalling prospect. They ar gue for the rescinding of the U.S. decision to withdraw, or at least, for delaying its implementation for a year or two working from withinil--not quitting-is the way to reform UNESCO.

They assert that UNESCO.'s shortcomings are largely the fault of the U. S which has "failed to play its role fully and to exercise its strengths They maintain that the loss to the U.S. would be great-particularly in the scientific field-if it were to withdraw. They claim that getting out would hand UNESCO over to the Russians , who would then exploit it without inhibition.

These arguments have little merit They urge that 1. The U.S. decision to withdraw from UNESCO has generated a greater momentum for reform in the last nine months than has existed in the previous 20 years. its intention to withdraw, or which actually withdraws while making it clear that it will return when UNESCO has been cleaned up, has infinitely more leverage. on the situation than one attempt- ing to work from within. back on its decision at the last momen t , it will lose most of its credibility, and the momentum for change will wane An America that has declared On the other hand, should America go 2. As UNESCO is now constituted, Ifworking from within" will fail. It has, after all, been tried quite vigorous l y in recent years--without success. As the GAO audit makes clear, it would necessarily involve attempting to negotiate with the all-powerful 6 Director-General MlBow to reform a state of affairs of which he is the principal architect and beneficiary. And i t would involve doing so in circumstances in which he controlled the game and called the shots. Why in these circumstances and in the absence of compelling and convincing sanctions, should M'Bow concede anything it would have to be preceded by the departu r e of M'Bow and his replacement by someone not committed to the existing way of running things, a person of proven integrity and commitment to fair and sound administrative practices 3 able condition of UNESCO lies largely with the U.S the first thing to s a y is that it represents a particularly outrageous example of the Ilblame America first" syndrome, recently identified by Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. Second it seems to be based on the assumption that a better llperformancell on America's part (a more fo r ceful presentation of views, the allocation of more and better people, greater preparation for meetings, and so on) would make a decisive difference. The problem is not one of presentation and performance it is political and can only be resolved by politi c al means It is not a case of the Director-General and the Third World not understanding U.S. views and interests; they understand them perfectly well and oppose them It should also be added that this stress on "better performancell is grossly unfair to th e U.S. Permanent Delegation to UNESCO, which, given the circumstances in which it has had to operate, has performed conscientiously and well 4. The assertion that the U.S. would suffer seriously, particu- larly in the field of science, as a result of withd r awal seems based on the false assumption that no effective substitutes for UNESCO could be formed or created. Yet Dr. William A. Nierenberg, the Chairman of the Committee on International Science of the National Science Board, told the House Science and T echnology Committee For Ifworking from within" to have any chance at all As for the assertion that the responsibility for the deplor I This is a fallacy.

The summary effect [of withdrawal as far as my investi- gations today go, on the U.S. scientific effort would be minimal, particularly because in almost every case there are adequate alternatives.

He pointed out that membership in such important bodies as the International Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and the Scientific Committee for Ocean Research (SCOR) was not conditional on UNESCO membership To be sure, other scientists think that U.S. with- drawal from UNESCO would be costly. two key points: access to U.S. scientific knowledge than the U.S. benefits from access to t h eirs, all countries would have an interest in quickly creating alternative cooperative mechanisms involving the U.S and (2) if, in the end, there are net costs involved in the scientific field, these must be weiqhed aqainst the other American interests se r ved by withdrawal. Scientific benefits, unless they But they seem to overlook 1) as every other country benefits more from 7 are of overwhelming importance, cannot determine American foreign policy 5 the U.S. departure would diminish it. project Soviet vi e ws on "peace, better balanced flow of information,Il UNESCO is only effective to the extent that it has legitimacy and authority. An American withdrawal would go far to deprive it of these (and the withdrawal of two or three other Western countries as wel l would destroy them entirely). Also, far from Itdriving the Third World into the hands of the Russians,I1 as some maintain, such a withdrawal would force the more moderate and pragmatic Third World countries to reconsider their strategy and to ponder the w isdom of continuing to let a radical minority lead them by the nose in the name of solidarity. USSR's abysmal record as an aid giver, when anything other than arms is involved, and would recognize that a UNESCO goose dependent on the Soviet Union would pr o duce no golden eggs. these political aspects, U.S. withdrawal would deprive UNESCO of one of its greatest practical attractions for the Soviets: would cut off the easy access to American scientific and technolo- gical data which the Organization now provi d es Far from enhancing the value of UNESCO to the Soviet Union, As a propaganda forum to "Western imperialism, II and Ita Most developing countries are well aware of the Apart from it What of the implications of the GAO audit for other Western countries, a s suming that they accept its findings? It is surely true that if a similar review of a government department or agency in any Western country revealed mismanagement on the scale of that existing in UNESCO, drastic action would be taken to remove those resp o nsible and to clean up the body. equally true that such maladministration would be regarded as intolerable in any private company or organization. why, then, should Western countries apply different standards to the manage- ment of UNESCO? Does not the re s ponsibility Western governments bear for the management and expenditure of their taxpayers' money extend to the funds that they give to international agencies and does not that responsibility require the firmest action in this case? Indeed, does not a ser i ous commitment to the aims of UNESCO require such action It is surely If other Western countries are content to allow double standards to apply, they should say so, explain why, and stop talking about reform. If they are not, then both principle and calcu l ation of political effectiveness suggest that they should do one of two things: either insist on the removal of M'Bow and his replacement by a person of proven ability and integrity, as an essential precondition for thorough reform, or give the required 1 2 months' notice of their intention to withdraw from UNESCO CONCLUSION The GAO audit fully confirms and justifies the charge of bad management advanced by the U.S. as one reason for leaving UNESCO. 8 The other reasons-excessive anti-Western politicization a nd a commitment to statist policies--are equally valid. imperative-both for the sake of American credibility and to maintain the pressure for reform generated by the decision--that it should be implemented in December. have shown that an America that has d ecided to withdraw has greater, not less, leverage on UNESCO affairs; and the example of the U.S. withdrawal from the International Labor Organization ILO) in the 1970s confirms that actual withdrawal increases leveraqe still further. Events also have sho w n that other Western countries respond to firm American leadership in resisting ideolo- gically motivated demands: witness the effects of the American rejection of the Law of the Sea Treaty; witness also Western demands for reform of UNESCO made this year by Great Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and the Federal Republic of Germany, once America had shown that it was serious It is now Events in,the last year On the other hand, if the U.S. should go back on its decision or vacillate, the conclusion that wi l l be drawn-not only in UNESCO but generally-is that a U.S. decision to take firm action need not be treated seriously. The characterization of the U.S as a "paper tiger" would be confirmed. Among other things, this would immediately rob any further effort to reform the U.N system of all credibility. At home, it would mean that, having would end up incurrinq the wrath of conservatives as well: a classic case of pleasing no one by trying to please everyone the announcement of the prospective withdrawal of se v eral other Western countries, unless sweeping changes are forthcoming, would create the optimal conditions for thoroughgoing reform in 1985 If even these did not yield satisfactory results, the conclusion that UNESCO is beyond redemption would be irresist i ble. Concern for reform should then give way to the creation of alternative ways of ensuring the educational, scientific, and cultural coopera- tion envisaged by UNESCO's founders alienated some liberals by the original decision, the government I The depa rture of the U.S. at the end of 1984, together with Owen Harries John M. Olin Fellow Owen Harries served from February 1982 to August 1983 as Australia's Ambassador to UNESCO.

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