The More Things Change...

John Dodd
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Posted: Jan 24, 2008 3:06 PM
The More Things Change...

Eight years ago this month, Senator Jesse Helms made international history as the first legislator ever to speak before the United Nations Security Council. His speech that day marked an agreement between the United States Congress and the Secretary General of the United Nations to get serious about fiscal restraint and accountability in its operations. That agreement, codified in the Helms-Biden Act was signed into law by President Clinton at the end of 1999. It was welcomed by Kofi Annan as a response to his plans to reduce the U.N. budget bloat. Unfortunately, this historic visit now stands as one more example of the U.N.’s total disinterest in meaningful reform.

This year with new leader Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. budget will be 25% larger than the last two-year budget cycle. That is 25%, not 2.5%. Why? What could possibly explain that kind of expansion? The one-word answer is: BUREAUCRACY. The U.N.’s preliminary budget projects a 15% increase. According to The Wall Street Journal, this increase combined with the estimates provided by our government (which includes all of the “add ons” in the U.N.’s real spending plans) totals a planned expenditure of $5.2 billion.

You may be thinking, “That’s not a bad deal for humanitarian aid and peace keeping.” And that might be true, but this $5.2 billion budget is for a totally different set of expenditures than the separate estimated $5-7 billion budget that the U.N. will use for peacekeeping. The $5.2 billion in the Ban Ki-Moon budget is for every day operations, including staff salaries that account for nearly $4 billion of the expenditures.

How could they spend that much? The better question might be, “Where do I apply for a U.N. job?” Current pay and benefits for PS2 (junior level) hires without dependants are between $42,818 and $54,844 net of income tax plus post adjustments which in, New York City, account for $27,344 and $35,226 more per year. Pay is increased by another $3,000 if the applicant has a dependant, and each extra child adds $1,780 per year.

There is much more, including a generous pension contribution in excess of 15% of the annual salary, a rental subsidy of up to 40%, a potential of 30 days of paid vacation, and 16 weeks of paid maternity, paternity, family, adoption, sickness or sabbatical leave. I’m sure you get the picture of an entry level salary package that reflects the U.N.’s enthusiasm for spending its member nations’ money.

And that of course is the problem – the same old problem. The member nation providing the biggest single portion of the U.N. budget is the United States. Our country is expected to provide close to one-fourth of that $5.2 billion. And we’re expected to do it promptly, without questioning how our money will be used. Without questioning why we are expected to pay such an unfairly disproportionate part of the bill.

There is no Senator Helms in our Senate anymore. There is no leader in our government who is willing to square off with those who profit from our work and say, “we are not going to fund your foolishness.” Without a Helmsian willingness to back words with actions, we have been reduced to politely joining forces with the nation of Japan. Along with Japan, the U.N.’s second largest funder, we will have to request that Ki-Moon’s office consider restructuring the budget with priorities noted and indicate where their budget might be cut in order to fund those priorities. We should not be surprised when our request is ignored.

In his memoir Here’s Where I Stand, Senator Helms wrote, “It would be wonderful if I could point with pride to permanent changes under way at the United Nations because of our efforts, but that is not the reality. I am convinced that there will never be real change at the United Nations without our constant watchfulness.” Sadly, in this instance like so many others, Senator Helms was exactly correct.

The only thing that he didn’t predict was how much bigger the bureaucracy will have to grow before we’re willing to stop feeding it.