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U.S. Calls for Salary Freeze for Employees at ‘Distorted’ UN

Jan. 20 (Bloomberg) -- The United Nations should freeze salaries, post compensation audits online and reduce its health-care and pension costs, according to the U.S. ambassador for UN management and reform.

Ambassador Joseph M. Torsella said today that while UN employees deserve proper compensation, UN salaries in New York are on average almost 30 percent higher than U.S. federal salaries in Washington.

“Until very recently, the UN budget has been disconnected from global financial realities,” he said in a speech in Washington. “The system is becoming seriously distorted.”

Salaries at the UN average $119,000 a year, making compensation one of the largest costs at the 193-nation body, Torsella said in August. Today he said the UN is a $36 billion “retro” enterprise stuck in the 1950s and that a “small group of member states” -- which he declined to name -- opposed a push to disclose UN salaries, contracts and budgets.

The UN cut its budget for this year and next year by 5 percent to $5.15 billion. This is the first reduction since 1998 to the two-year budgets that have increased by 5 percent on average for the past five decades, according to Torsella.

The UN and related bodies, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, employ 63,450 people from carpenters to translators. The UN Secretariat has 7,750 staff members and employs an additional 8,230 through special funding. In addition, 2,230 diplomats on the payrolls of their own governments work at the UN.

‘Remarkably Small’

The world body says on its website that it is “remarkably small” for an organization with a global reach and that by comparison the U.S. Department of Education employs almost 71,000 people. With regard to pay, the UN says it has difficulty attracting and keeping staff and therefore must be a “competitive employer.”

The UN “gives us mountains of information but very little useful data,” Torsella said.

The U.S. pays 22 percent of the UN’s regular operating budget and is assessed 27 percent of the peacekeeping budget. U.S. payments were $3.35 billion in 2010, of which $2.67 billion was dedicated to the 16 peacekeeping operations worldwide from South Sudan to Haiti.

The U.S. has asked for improvements in how 120,000 peacekeepers around the world are deployed and checks on how they behave. In the aftermath of protests in the Middle East, the deployment of technical staff to advise on elections and new constitutions needs to happen faster, Torsella said.

Abuses such as those depicted in “The Whistleblower,” a film based on events in Bosnia, where UN peacekeepers were implicated in a sex slavery scandal, have led to U.S. demands for a “zero tolerance” policy and a system-wide database on misconduct to track crimes.

To contact the reporter on this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson in United Nations at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at

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