Fact Sheet: Obama Administration Accomplishments: Reforming the United Nations

New York, NY
September 26, 2012

The Obama Administration has dramatically changed America’s course at the United Nations to advance our interests and values and help forge a more secure and prosperous world. Critical in this endeavor has been our ongoing work to build a modern, more efficient, more effective United Nations. Key achievements in this effort include:

Economy: A Leaner UN

As the largest financial contributor to the UN, the U.S. is committed to ensuring that funds are spent wisely and not wasted. The Obama Administration has saved U.S. taxpayer money by:

  • Continuing to lead efforts to maintain the 5% cut in the size of the 2012-13 UN regular budget from the previous biennium final appropriation, which resulted in a savings to American taxpayers of as much as $100 million and represented the first meaningful cut in the UN budget since the 1990’s and just the second in 50 years.
  • Establishing a Senior Advisory Group to examine the rates of reimbursement for troop contributing countries following defeat of a proposed 57% annual increase in 2011 in the reimbursement rate for troops in peacekeeping missions that would have cost the U.S. alone $190 million.
  • Promoting a more “paperless” UN that has resulted, for example, in a 75% reduction of pages printed in New York by the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management over the past three years, saving on an annual basis a pile of paper 66 times the height of the Secretariat building.
  • Introducing the concept of, and strongly supporting, a pay freeze, leading the International Civil Service Commission to effectively implement a pay freeze for New York-based UN employees, while deferring to the General Assembly for a final decision on the issue this fall. We will continue to push the UN to maintain the pay freeze at a time when taxpayers everywhere are facing greater financial pressures.
  • Containing the growth of the UN peacekeeping budget by closing peacekeeping missions, as appropriate, showing increased discipline in establishing new missions, emphasizing management innovations, and shifting resources from overhead to operations. These measures led to a lower price tag in 2012 for UN peacekeeping of more than $500 million compared to the previous year’s approved budget.
  • Securing unanimous support for a GA resolution calling on the UN to reign in Capital Master Plan cost overruns and authorizing a forensic audit to determine what caused these overruns.

Accountability: A Cleaner UN

The Obama Administration has made considerable progress in boosting transparency and advancing accountability issues at the UN, including:

  • Supporting the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to be a strong and independent watchdog so that U.S. taxpayers’ money is spent wisely and UN programs are managed effectively, and successfully leading efforts to appoint a well-respected and qualified candidate—Carman Lapointe—to lead OIOS. Lapointe has rebuilt OIOS capacity by reducing OIOS staffing vacancies from 27% to 12% and by filling key leadership positions in the Investigations Division and the Inspection and Evaluation Division with highly qualified officers.
  • Supporting the head of the Ethics Office, Ms. Joan Dubinsky, a highly experienced American, to strengthen the culture of ethical behavior in the UN by increasing training and ensuring compliance of financial disclosure to prevent conflict of interest.
  • Securing public access to the internal audit reports of UNDP, UNICEF, and all of the New York funds and programs, and in so doing, setting a new standard for transparency in the UN system. We are building on this success to urge the rest of the UN system, including the UN Secretariat, to do the same.
  • Leading the General Assembly in adopting live webcasting coverage of all UN Committee formal meetings through webcasting.

Integrity: A Respected UN

The Obama Administration is working to ensure that the UN lives up to its founding principles and values by:

  • Working from within the Human Rights Council to enhance protection for and improve the treatment of people around the world. Though the Council remains flawed, U.S. engagement at the HRC has resulted in major progress. This includes:

o Mandates to monitor closely and address the human rights situations in Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Burma,  Sudan, Ivory Coast, Cambodia, Belarus and Eritrea.

o Reinvigorated use of the special session mechanism to highlight atrocities and abuseson the ground in Syria and Libya and establish Commissions of Inquiries for both to report on human rights violations.

o The first UN resolution solely focused on LGBT persons that paved the way for the first UN report on the challenges faced by LGBT people and sustained Council attention.

o A new way forward to counter the deeply problematic concept of defamation of religion that instead promotes tolerance for all religious beliefs, promotes education and dialogue, does not support bans on free speech, and is consistent with U.S. laws and universal values.

o A landmark internet freedom resolution reaffirming our longstanding commitment to freedoms of expression, association, and assembly.

o The creation of the UN Working Group on laws that discriminate against women.

  • Increasing the vote margins on the General Assembly resolutions condemning human rights abuses in Iran, North Korea, and Burma.
  • Working tirelessly to ensure that, for the first time ever, the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to condemn the appalling human rights situation in Syria.
  • Working consistently and forcefully to oppose unbalanced and biased actions against Israel in the Human Rights Council, the Security Council, the UN General Assembly, and across the UN system, while at the same time working to secure Israel’s full integration in the UN system, including pressing at all UN institutions for Israel to be admitted to appropriate regional consultation groups.
  • Fighting to ensure that all worthy non-governmental organizations have access to the UN by gaining accreditation through the UN’s NGO Committee, including LGBT NGOs and leading historic efforts to accredit the first Syrian-based NGO.
  • Leading efforts to prevent human rights abusers, such as Iran, Syria and Sudan from winning election to the Human Rights Council.
  • Actively supported historic efforts to suspend Qaddafi’s Libya from the Human Rights Council, the first time the General Assembly has censured an abusive state serving on its human rights body based on that state’s human rights record.
  • Reaffirming the historic provision to prevent reimbursement for UN peacekeeping troops who have been repatriated for disciplinary reasons, including violation of the UN zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.

Excellence: An Effective UN

The Administration has constantly pushed for ways to ensure that the UN delivers real results and performs to the highest standards by:

  • Spearheading the establishment of a new UN agency called UN Women, combining four separate UN offices into one stronger and streamlined entity working to support and empower women worldwide.
  • Promoting the implementation of the Global Field Support Strategy, a sweeping reform of UN administrative and logistics support for UN field operations. Implementation of this initiative has already led to $250 million in savings in the current peacekeeping budget and will continue to improve the quality, consistency, and efficiency of service delivery and strengthen the UN’s capacity to support complex field missions.
  • Supporting reforms that harmonized conditions of service for staff serving in the most difficult locations in the world to help the UN attract and retain the most qualified staff for hardship posts.
  • Continuing to press the UN to improve its personnel management policies, particularly in the areas of strategic planning, career development, and performance management, while also pushing the UN system to take measures to control the cost of personnel given the current economic climate, i.e. through the imposition of a hiring freeze.


PRN: 2012/196