Efficient, Effective and Proper

An Open Letter to Senator Tom Coburn

Dear Senator Coburn,

Thank you for your timely reply about U.S. funding for the United Nations.

I would like to comment on your concern about “reports of fraud, waste, and abuse at the UN….”

You cite the work of the UN Procurement Task Force, stating that “…more than 40 percent of procurement by the UN is tainted by waste and fraud, which totaled approximately $630 million between 2006 and 2008 alone.”

In addition, you write: “Unfortunately, the UN Procurement Task Force was disbanded in 2008, after pressure from a number of UN members, including Russia — who itself was often the subject of UN contract fraud investigations. Since the task force was disbanded, no new comprehensive data regarding UN contract fraud has been compiled, bringing the amount waste, fraud, and abuse, at the UN into further question, ultimately jeopardizing long-term peacekeeping efforts….”

First, I’m glad you shared this concern with me. I am happy to provide additional information which may allay some of your questions.

In 2010, the UN Secretariat procured more than $830 million
in goods and services from U.S. companies. Source:
The United Nations: Benefiting the U.S. Economy.”

With regard to the UN Procurement Task Force, you are correct that it was disbanded in 2008. But, this does not indicate that the United Nations has given up on its efforts to protect the integrity of its contract and procurement systems. It should be noted that the Procurement Task Force was, from the beginning, designed to be a temporary, provisional, ad hoc effort of the UN Secretariat to root out fraud and corruption in various peacekeeping missions and at UN headquarters. It was initially created for a fixed period of six months under authority of the Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services. The mandate of the Task Force was later extended for an additional 18 months to December 31, 2007.

The initial focus of the Procurement Task Force was the handling of the case of eight officials placed on special leave. Its investigations led to three of the eight officials being cleared of wrongdoing. It also brought to light one serious case, which resulted in a lengthy prison sentence.

During the 18-month period ending June 30, 2007, the Task Force completed 63 investigations and issued 22 reports. As of March 15, 2008, the Task Force had published 25 reports that dealt with more than 40 contracts, and had completed 142 of the cases in its portfolio. 



Philippe Séguin: First President of the Court of Accounts
of France and Chairman of the United Nations Board
of Auditors, Lead Auditor

You mention a figure of $630 million to describe the scope of waste and fraud in UN procurement activities over this multi-year period. To be precise, $630 million is an estimate of the overall value of the contracts in which irregularities had been suspected. But, not all of these contracts (or the activities carried out under the contracts) were found to have been fraudulent or wasteful. The Task Force was only able to identify clear losses of $25 million, of which $20 million related to the same person.

In short, the problems found in the UN’s procurement system were determined to be isolated incidents — occurring mostly as the result of a single person at a single point in time. The efforts of the Procurement Task Force did not expose massive corruption at the United Nations, and there is no indication of widespread fraud, waste or corruption at the present time.

This conclusion can be found in a couple of reports which are available on the UN website. For example, the “Report of the Board of Auditors on the activities of the Procurement Task Force” includes a useful summary of the findings of the Procurement Task Force.

The Board of Auditors reviewed the work of the Procurement Task Force, and their report concludes that the efforts of the Task Force “did not expose widespread corruption at the United Nations….”

Additionally, the UN Department of Public Information has published a report on plans to integrate the functions of the Procurement Task Force into the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services. In fact, these plans were openly debated in a meeting of the UN’s budget committee in October, 2008.

The American representative on the committee is quoted as expressing pleasure with the efforts made by the Procurement Task Force to preserve the integrity of the United Nations and its operations.

The report includes this comment:

CHERITH NORMAN (United States) …

“While noting that the Board of Auditors had concluded that Procurement Task Force had not exposed widespread corruption at the United Nations, she also agreed that the existence of the Task Force might have served as a deterrent and had been helpful in eliminating undesirable suppliers from the United Nations…. Overall, the United States agreed with the Task Force’s recommendation that companies and individuals needed to be held accountable for financial losses and damages resulting from misconduct.  She thanked the Task Force for its work and urged the Secretary-General to act without delay in implementing its recommendations….”

With regard to your statement about Russia and its opposition to an extension of the mandate of the Task Force, your comment seems to suggest that Russia was somehow seeking to protect Russian companies from legitimate scrutiny.

The report of the Board of Auditors addresses this concern, indirectly, as follows:

“3. Nationality analysis

“43. The nationality analysis of the 29 staff members under investigation by the Procurement Task Force revealed that the three countries with the greatest representation were the United States of America (seven staff members, or 24 per cent of the total), the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and New Zealand (three nationals, or 10 per cent each). Four countries had two nationals each (7 per cent) under investigation. No other country had more than one national under investigation.

“44. As for the vendors under investigation, the most represented countries were: the United States (26 per cent), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (13 per cent), Italy, Canada, the Russian Federation and India (9 per cent in each case).”

There was nothing in the audit report suggesting that the work of the Task Force was cut short because of political pressure by any country.

Rather, the Board of Auditors noted the temporary nature of the Task Force, and it recommended that further oversight of UN operations should be conducted through the UN’s regular established Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). 

As you know, the operations of the UN are subject to great scrutiny by every member nation which pays dues to the organization — not least of all the United States of America.

Ambassador Samantha Power is the U.S.
Permanent Representative to the United Nations
and a member of President Obama’s Cabinet. 

In this regard, the U.S. Mission to the UN maintains an online database of reports from the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). See the Mission’s webpage on UN Oversight and Transparency. You’ll find report after report on audits and reviews of various aspects of UN agency operations. The latest compilation, from 2013, includes more than three dozen reports.

And, in fact, an entire section of the U.S. Mission is dedicated to UN Management and Reform — assuring that programs and activities are efficient, effective and properly managed.

In my experience as a program manager, I know that the actions of one or two bad apples can unfairly tarnish the reputation of a good organization. Every modern, forward-thinking enterprise must be vigilant to protect the integrity of its contract and management systems.

In this case, the work of the UN Procurement Task Force demonstrates the professionalism of UN staff and management in responding to a serious instance of fraud and corruption.


Because of continuing oversight by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services and because of the additional scrutiny of UN member states, you can be confident that American taxpayers are continuing to receive a remarkable bargain through our shared leadership of the United Nations.

If you have any further concerns about UN operations, please remember that your constituents who are members of the United Nations Association are ready and willing to support you.

God bless you, Senator, and thank you for your service to the people of Oklahoma.

Sincerely,

Bill Bryant
Director of Communications
Greater Oklahoma City Chapter
United Nations Association of the USA

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