November 26, 2013 | Issue Brief on United Nations
Pay of United Nations professional and higher level staff has risen sharply over the past few years in comparison to equivalent positions in the United States federal civil service. U.N. pay is supposed to be based on those of equivalent U.S. civil servants. The discrepancy has arisen, in part, because U.S. pay has been frozen in response to America’s budgetary crisis while the U.N.’s International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) has recommended pay increases. As a result, U.N. compensation—already more generous than that paid by the member states to their own civil servants—has grown comparatively even more lavish.
In addition, personnel costs, including salaries, comprise approximately 70 percent of the U.N. regular budget and the budgets of many other U.N. organizations. Because many major contributors are facing domestic fiscal constraints, they have been reluctant to support increased U.N. budgets. As a result, increases in U.N. compensation are beginning to create budgetary strains, eliciting concern from some of these organizations.
In order to attract and retain qualified staff, the U.N. has long operated under the Noblemaire principle, which states that professional staff compensation should be determined according to the schedule of the civil service of the member state with the highest national civil service compensation levels. Since the U.N. was founded, this “comparator” has been the U.S. federal civil service.
U.N. professional categories, however, do not line up neatly with U.S. civil service grades. To address this, the ICSC calculates equivalencies between the two as a basis for determining compensation. Once base salaries are established, the ICSC determines cost-of-living adjustments (“post adjustments,” in U.N. parlance) to the base salaries to arrive at the final pay. According to the ICSC, U.N. pay significantly exceeds that of the U.S. equivalent.
In addition, U.N. employees enjoy generous benefits and allowances matching or exceeding equivalent U.S. benefits as detailed in a May 2013 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. For instance, U.N. employees enjoy significantly more generous annual, maternity, paternity, and sick leave benefits. While the GAO observes that U.S. civil servants working in other countries enjoy similar allowances to those provided by the U.N., including housing and education allowances, the report clarifies that they “apply only to a small percentage of U.S. civil service employees.” A large portion of U.N. employees, by contrast, enjoy these benefits.
The ICSC operates under an instruction from Resolution 40/244 adopted by the U.N. General Assembly (GA) in 1985 to maintain U.N. net remuneration between 110 percent and 120 percent higher than the U.S. equivalent, with a further goal of maintaining a five-year average of 115 percent adopted three years later in Resolution 43/226. Although U.N. pay has risen relative to that of U.S. equivalent civil servants for over a decade, the pace has increased since the U.S. instituted a pay freeze for federal workers in 2010.
U.N. pay in New York is now at the top of the 110 percent to 120 percent range. As Ambassador Joseph Torsella, U.S. Representative to the United Nations on Management and Reform, observed in October 2013:
[D]espite our appreciation for UN staff, we simply cannot justify historically high and soaring UN compensation levels that are now significantly out of step with the average US civil servant’s salary—the official comparator—even before generous and unique UN benefits are considered.
In addition, other U.N. organizations have expressed concern:
At the behest of the member states, the ICSC is currently conducting a review of the common system compensation package, including the rationale and basis for payment. The U.S. should advocate for significant changes to U.N. compensation. Specifically, the U.S. should:
Governments around the world have had to implement cost-saving measures to meet budgetary necessity, including pay freezes. As a composite of the world’s nations, the U.N. should not be insulated from this reality.
Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation and editor of ConUNdrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search for Alternatives (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009).
Fifteen organizations accepted the statute of the ICSC and participate in the United Nations common system of salaries and allowances: the U.N.; the International Labor Organization; the Food and Agricultural Organization; the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; the International Civil Aviation Organization; the World Health Organization; the Universal Postal Union; the International Telecommunication Union; the World Meteorological Organization; International Maritime Organization; the World Intellectual Property Organization; the International Atomic Energy Agency; the United Nations Industrial Development Organization; the U.N. World Tourism Organization; and the International Seabed Authority. Although it has not accepted the statute, the International Fund for Agricultural Development also participates in the common system of salaries and allowances. United Nations, “Report of the International Civil Service Commission for the Year 2013,” http://icsc.un.org/resources/pdfs/ar/AR2013.pdf (accessed November 25, 2013).
United Nations, “Report of the International Civil Service Commission for the Year 2012: Corrigendum,” October 18, 2012, http://icsc.un.org/resources/pdfs/ar/AR2012_CORR.pdf (accessed November 23, 2013), and United Nations, “Report of the International Civil Service Commission for the Year 2011,” Annex VI, p. 75, http://icsc.un.org/resources/pdfs/ar/AR2011.pdf (accessed November 23, 2013).
U.S. Office of Personnel Management, “2013 General Schedule (GS) Locality Pay Tables,” http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages/2013/general-schedule/ (accessed November 23, 2013).
U.S. Government Accountability Office, UN Compensation: United Nations Should Clarify the Process and Assumptions Underlying Secretariat Professional Salaries, GAO–13–526, May 29, 2013, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-526 (accessed November 23, 2013).
Joseph M. Torsella, “Remarks at the Opening Session of the Fifth Committee Main Session of the 68th General Assembly,” October 3, 2013, http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/215280.htm (accessed November 25, 2013).
Food and Agricultural Organization, “Resolution 7/2013: Budgetary Appropriations 2014-15,” adopted June 22, 2013, paragraph 4, http://www.fao.org/docrep/meeting/017/MH093E/MH093E01.htm#Resolution7 (accessed November 23, 2013).
World Intellectual Property Organization, “Summary of Decisions and Recommendations made by the Program and Budget Committee at Its Twenty-First Session (September 9 to 13, 2013),” September 23, 2013, to October 2, 2013, p. 4, www.wipo.int/edocs/mdocs/govbody/en/a_51/a_51_14.docx (accessed November 23, 2013).
International Maritime Organization, “Summary of Decisions,” C 110/D, July 29, 2013, paragraph 4(a).4, cited in United Nations, “Report of the International Civil Service Commission for the Year 2013,” p. 5.
Patrick Tyrrell and James Sherk, “Still Not the Time to Raise Federal Pay,” The Heritage Foundation, The Foundry, November 12, 2013, http://blog.heritage.org/2013/11/12/still-not-the-time-to-raise-federal-pay/.