Global Policy Forum

Kofi Annan's UN Reform Measures to Do More with Less


A UNA-USA Assessment of the "Track One" Initiatives

By Jeffrey Laurenti

United Nations Association of the USA

The following document was prepared by UNA-USA's Executive Director for Policy Studies, Jeffrey Laurenti, in response to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's new reform initiatives announced on March 17, 1997. Track One reforms of Mr. Annan's "two-track" reform program entail immediate managerial changes in areas within the Secretary-General's authority. Track Two reforms will establish a long-term plan of action to address more fundamental issues involving input from Member States. The full text of the Secretary-General's statement and further details about U.N. reform efforts can be accessesed at

The package of administrative reform measures announced by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on March 17 will not only streamline U.N. bureaucracy and redirect resources from administrative overhead to program accomplishment, but also help change the Organization's management culture itself. It constitutes, in U.S. Permanent Representative Bill Richardson's words, "the kind of structural reform that will help the United Nations do more, better, and for less."

Richardson's assessment of Annan's "detailed and thorough blueprint" carefully described the package as "a significant step" toward, not the completion of, such structural reform. But it fairly represents what is within the power of the Secretary-General to accomplish. Richardson acknowledged as much when he told the General Assembly's Fifth Committee, after Annan's announcement, that "broader structural and organizational reforms must be negotiated with other member states."

The Annan measures promise to move the U.N. Secretariat toward fulfillment of the dual reform objective specified by a new UNA-USA report: "internalize a performance ethic and become a self-starter in a continuous process of self-renewal."1 It does so by creating new lines of accountability and establishing, for the first time in the institution's history, a Code of Conduct for United Nations staff.

The Secretary-General's package includes, among other items:


Annan commits himself to proposing a budget for the 1998-99 biennium that will be $123 million less than the current biennium's $2.603 billion budget--"at comparable prices." In current dollars, the 1996-97 budget itself is $5 million below the prior biennium's, reflecting "negative nominal growth"; Annan points out that, because of inflation and foreign exchange fluctuations, the current budget required $210 million in "real resource reductions" (8% off the prior biennial budget) to obtain the net $5 million reduction in current dollars.


Annan vows to reduce the number of posts financed by the U.N. regular budget by 1,000 in the next budget biennium; the total of those currently authorized amounts to 10,021. In 1996 the Secretariat reported that the number of people actually filling posts financed through the regular assessed budget was already 9,196--down 18% from comparable staff levels ten years before--so the posts "reduced" are being taken at the expense of those already vacant. Annan says that with his reductions, Secretariat staff will have been trimmed by fully a quarter from its historical high of 11,994. Even with these reductions, Annan pledges to demand that departments achieve the targets on gender balance set by the General Assembly, and vows to give "qualified women...the opportunity to serve in senior positions."


The Secretary-General has set for his management and budget directors--and specifically Under Secretary General Joseph Connor (an American and former CEO of Price Waterhouse)--an ambitious goal of pruning out a third of the costs of U.N. administration, which consume 38% of the Organization's regular budget. Significantly, Annan does not propose to return these savings to contributor countries through budget reductions, but to redeploy the resources to direct program activities in the economic and social fields. This retargeting fulfills the purpose of U.N. reform as envisioned by most member states, particularly developing countries.

Annan insists that the administrative economies can be effected primarily by increasing the decision- making power and accountability of program managers, increased application of information technology, and simplifying administrative and financial regulations, all of which would allow reductions in the layers of centralized administration.


Annan insists that U.N. program officials in each country, including the head of any U.N. information center, function as part of a U.N. "country team" under the Resident Coordinator, normally the lead representative of the U.N. Development Program. (U.S. embassies, which also house officials of diverse agencies, similarly function with a country team approach.) This would, Annan says, "strengthen and enhance" a process that has already been underway. However, the Secretary-General actually has scant authority over the many U.N.-system agencies that have their own charters.


Western governments had counted it a major reform success when Boutros Boutros-Ghali consolidated several agencies in the economic and social fields in 1992. Subsequently he reallocated their activities among three departments. Annan reunites them, economizing on two department heads and their immediate support, and asserts that the "new Secretariat arrangements should serve to bolster support for Africa's development."


Annan notes that just between the 1988-89 and the 1994-95 biennium, the volume of words printed (requiring translation into six languages) has swelled by 43 million, or 25%, and that in the second two-year period 200 million more pages were printed, for a total of nearly 1.6 billion, a 14% growth in printing output. To roll back the tide, Annan has ordered the standard for all documents produced by the Secretariat to be no longer than 16 pages (a reduction from the current standard of 24 pages). He will seek an even larger reduction in the standard for reports of member states' intergovernmental bodies, including the General Assembly itself.


The major initiative for changing the U.N.'s management culture is the introduction of a Code of Conduct for U.N. staff. The draft code on which Annan is now seeking staff comment lays out, he says, "the expectations for conduct and performance," presents a framework for accountability for performance, and requires financial disclosure by senior officials. This last measure was championed unsuccessfully by the Clinton administration when Boutros Boutros-Ghali was Secretary-General.

Still to come...The Secretary-General's measures make a substantial dent on what is within his power to change as chief administrative officer. The larger agenda for reform--ranging from inter- agency coordination to fairer and more reliable financing arrangements to strengthened capacity for maintaining peace and security--requires political agreements by U.N. member states. Annan will offer proposals himself in these areas by July, but many of these have been the subject of continuing work by the General Assembly's open-ended--and, say U.N. wags, never ending--working groups on U.N. reform. With the financing issues as a linchpin, member states' representatives profess hope for reaching an accord on these by the end of the current General Assembly session.

1Crisis and Reform in United Nations Financing (UNA-USA, 1997), p. 4.

More Information on UN Reform
More Information on Secretary General Kofi Annan's Reform Agenda


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