- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 26, 2014

The business of ending wars, keeping the peace and solving hunger and poverty apparently has its privileges, at least when it comes to pay.

A Government Accountability Office report finds that the compensation costs for U.N. personnel have soared by $1 billion over the past decade, prompting the investigative arm of Congress to press the United Nations to find more cost savings or less-generous pay packages.

According to the GAO’s analysis, expenditures related to U.N. staff rose steadily from $1.95 billion in 2002-2003 to $2.98 billion in 2010-2011, at an average rate of about 7 percent per two-year budget, and the United States contributes approximately 22 percent of the U.N. budget.

“The UN Board of Auditors reported that staff costs for the 2010-2011 biennium were the UN’s single largest item of expenditure, with costs rising because of higher salaries and related staff benefits,” auditors wrote in the GAO report. “The UN Secretary-General and the General Assembly have also raised concerns about the long-term sustainability of compensation costs.”

To slow the rising costs, the United Nations raised its retirement age from 62 to 65 for new hires and rates paid for allowances for at least one year. Additionally, the U.N. International Civil Service Commission began a review of U.N. compensation and will compile a report by next year.

However, the civil service commission is able to examine costs only within its area of administrative jurisdiction, which does not include costs for pensions and retiree health insurance.

Investigators fear that without a full report, including information outside the civil service commission’s scope, member states will not have a complete record to help make decisions about cutting cots.

In a response letter to the GAO, officials at the State Department explained a key factor of the disproportionate compensation increases over the years: the Noblemaire principle.

“The Noblemaire Principle requires compensation for UN professional staff to be set in comparison to the highest compensated national civil service, and since 1945, the UN has considered this to be the U.S. Federal civil service,” State Department officials said.

In other words, the principle requires compensation for U.N. workers to be at least as high as the pay for civil service workers in any member country. When the rule was established by the European Union, Britain was the standard for salary calculation. Now it’s the U.S.

However, this principle leads to a “cherry-picking” process in which members can argue for U.S. base salaries, Italian vacation benefits, German education benefits and other perks, according to a report by David Judson for the Turkish news source Hurriyet Daily News.

U.N. professional categories do not line up exactly with U.S. civil service compensation, so adjustments have to be made.

“The ICSC calculate equivalencies between the two as a basis for determining compensation. According to the ICSC, U.N. Compensation significantly exceeds that of the U.S. Equivalent,” Brett Schaefer, a fellow in international regulatory affairs, explained in a post for the Heritage Foundation.

GAO investigators found that U.N. staff with 30 years of service who retire at age 62 have salaries ranging from $65,272 to $176,274 while U.S. federal civilian employees with the same qualifications make $47,413 to $120,347.

These compensation discrepancies were apparent across the board, including special allowance benefits issued to U.N. employees.

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