Leaner United Nations Backpedals on Reforms: Cuts in Staffing, Spending Being Circumvented Off-Budget

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Spending and employment at the United Nations are down from peak levels, but starting to rise again two years after Secretary-General Kofi Annan made modest cuts in what critics called a bloated bureaucracy.

U.N. officials say they cut staff by more than 1,000 to 8,741 positions in the Secretariat - the administrative hub of a system employing more than 50,000 people worldwide. The two-year U.N. budget was cut from $2.61 billion in 1996 to $2.53 billion in 1998.

Now both staffing and the budget are projected to rise slightly in 2000, with U.N. officials claiming the U.S.-led push for reform is being undercut by resentment at the U.S. failure to pay its debts and calls by other nations for more spending on development.

A chief critic of the United Nations, Sen. Rod Grams, Minnesota Republican, is heading to New York this week to see for himself whether reforms have taken hold.

"It's been difficult to get clear-cut answers from the U.S. administration. It's not clear how much reform has taken place," said a spokesman for Mr. Grams.

"That's why he's going up - to ask questions about it."

Mr. Grams also has asked for a new evaluation of the U.N. reforms by the General Accounting Office (GAO), which reported to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in June that Mr. Annan "has undertaken a serious effort to reform the United Nations, [but] the initiatives we examined have not been fully implemented."

Long-standing concerns about overlap, duplication and coordination "are not being addressed" by the reforms, said GAO Associate Director Harold J. Johnson in his report.

Even the widely touted elimination of nearly 1,000 positions has been shaded by the fact that some already were vacant and others were replaced by workers paid outside of the U.N. budget - directly by member nations, through trust funds or other mechanisms.

The GAO reported that in December, the U.N. Secretariat had 7,738 regular staff - about 1,000 fewer than the U.N.'s own figures, reflecting the murky accounting procedures of the world body. The Secretariat also had 6,704 workers paid from "extrabudgetary funds," adding up to a total force of 14,442.

U.N.-affiliated bodies such as the U.N. Development Program, Children's Fund and High Commissioner for Refugees had another 6,759 regular staffers and 12,876 extrabudgetary workers, totaling 19,635.

Specialized agencies such as the World Health Organization had regular staff of 14,009, plus 3,748 extrabudgetary workers - for a total of 17,757.

Thus, the entire U.N. system had a total regular-budget staff of 28,504 plus an extrabudgetary staff of 23,328. The grand total for the U.N. system was 51,832.

The head of the U.N. office in Washington, Catherine O'Neill, noted that "reform" has different meanings for different players in the U. …