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New U.N. Secretary Annan Announces Personnel Cuts

By John M. Goshko
The Washington Post
UNITED NATIONS

New United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan SM '72, under heavy pressure from the United States for far-reaching reform of the world body, Monday announced personnel and financial steps that include trimming 1,000 staff jobs and cutting $123 million from the 1998-99 budget.

Annan presented the measures two days before U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson goes to Capitol Hill for the first time to testify to congressional committees seeking tough, cost-cutting steps by the United Nations before approving U.S. payments to it. U.S. and U.N. officials expressed hope here Monday that Annan's announcement would give Richardson the ammunition to get the hearings off to a positive start.

But the initial reaction from congressional conservatives was negative. The package drew criticism in part for leaving unclear whether the staff reductions were real eliminations of jobs, or merely the result of leaving unfilled for now positions that are temporarily vacant.

"These look like repackaged ideas from old, discredited reform proposals that didn't fly with Congress before, and we're very concerned about whether Annan is playing a shell game," said Marc Thiessen, spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The panel's chairman, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., advocates a major downsizing of U.N. staff and functions.

Annan called the package, which had been awaited eagerly since he took office Jan. 1, the first or "track one" phase of his proposed reforms including steps that he said can be implemented immediately. Most had been discussed widely but unofficially.

A "track two" series of long-range initiatives that will require cooperation by the 185 U.N. member states is being prepared by Annan's staff, and he reiterated Monday that he intends to make them public in July.

In Monday's proposals, Annan announced that "new efficiencies will enable the reduction of 1,000 posts" from the secretariat or core staff which works directly for the secretary general. It currently has between 8,500 and 9,000 employees based primarily in New York, Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi.

The other major reform announced Monday was Annan's intention to cut the U.N. budget, which is adopted for a two-year period, by $123 million for 1998-99. His announcement said details of where the cuts would be made will be spelled out later. The regular U.N. operating budget this year is roughly $1.3 billion.

The measures clearly were intended to send a signal that the secretary general is prepared to undertake the kind of serious reform demanded by Republican conservatives who now control the U.S. Congress.

Leaders of both the House and Senate have told Annan that otherwise there is no chance of Congress voting to pay the U.S. back dues and other arrears - estimated by the United Nations at about $1.3 billion - needed to pull the organization back from the brink of bankruptcy.

"The secretary general has taken a significant step toward the kind of structural reform that will help the United Nations do more, better and for less," Richardson said. "This is a very good start. I want to commend the secretary general again for this substantial initiative. We look forward to working with him toward a United Nations that can better serve all our people in the years ahead."

Thiessen, however, expressed skepticism about Annan's proposed staff reductions. Last year, then-Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali instituted a reduction of about 1,000 secretariat employees. But instead of actually eliminating positions from the secretariat's table of organization, almost all of the reductions were achieved through attrition or not filling vacancies. As a result, the secretariat still is authorized more than 10,000 employees, and critics have expressed concern that there might be pressure from the bureaucracy and some member states to fill currently vacant posts once the drive for reform eases.

U.N. officials said Monday that most of the new round of 1,000 job reductions will be accomplished in the same way to minimize hardship among career employees. They added, though, that roughly 1,000 of those jobs that currently are vacant but still exist on paper will be eliminated. That, Thiessen said, is the area that Helms and other congressional critics "want to know a lot more about."