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U.S. Underrepresented At WHO, FAO, Other U.N. Organizations, GAO Report Says

A report (.pdf) from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), released on Thursday, found that the U.S. “presence and influence in several parts of the United Nations actually declined” over the past few years, Foreign Policy’s blog “The Cable” reports.

According to the report: “In 2009, the United States was underrepresented, based on formal and informal targets, at all five of the U.N. organizations GAO reviewed – the Secretariat, World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). … In addition, U.S. representation in policymaking and senior-level positions generally decreased at these U.N. organizations from 2006 to 2009,” the blog reports.

“Despite the fact that the United States is assessed to provide 22 percent of the U.N. budget, Americans hold only 10.2 percent of professional positions in the U.N. Secretariat, 8.3 percent in the World Health Organization, and 7.4 percent in the U.N.’s refugee agency,” the blog writes. The Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO) at the State Department is the main office charged with handling U.S. involvement in the U.N. “The State Department has been making some efforts since 2006 to increase American representation at the United Nations, but progress has been hampered by a variety of factors, including Americans’ lack of proficiency in U.N. languages, lengthy hiring processes, and the feeling by some that there’s not much opportunity for professional advancement, the report said,” according to “The Cable.”

The report recommends the State Department examine the effectiveness of its strategy to place Americans in U.N. organizations. “State has not assessed the effectiveness of most of its current efforts to increase U.S. representation,” the report stated. “Despite State’s efforts, many Americans employed at the five organizations learned about U.N. job opportunities through their own networks, not through State.” It also recommends the implementation of a pilot program, through the State Department, to fund Junior Professional Officers (JPOs) at U.N. organizations.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, and Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, ordered the report. In a statement, Akaka said, “I am greatly concerned about the United States’ underrepresentation in U.N. agencies … U.S. citizens working in U.N. organizations provide valuable expertise while strengthening our global leadership and expanding our country’s influence.”

“This report provides several key points of action for the State Department, and I hope Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and our U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice will consider these recommendations to ensure the United States is fairly represented at U.N. agencies,” Voinovich said.

According to the blog, Bureau of International Organization Affairs spokesman Kurtis Cooper said the following in a statement: “We’ve seen the GAO report and accept its recommendations. As the largest financial contributor to the United Nations, the United States has a vested interest in ensuring that qualified Americans are well-represented within the ranks of the U.N. and its varied agencies and organizations, and we will continue working diligently toward this goal” (Rogin, 9/30).

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