Trump's OMB Must Report on Billions of U.S. Taxpayer Dollars for the U.N.

By Patrick Goodenough | December 19, 2016 | 4:32am EST
Flags of member nations flying at United Nations headquarters in New York City (AP File Photo)

( – For the first time since fiscal year 2010, American taxpayers will soon be able to see, in one place, the full extent of annual U.S. contributions to the United Nations system – a far larger amount of money than that requested by the State Department each year for the regular U.N. budget.

Before the end of March next year, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will be required to provide Congress with a report on all contributions – assessed and voluntary, including in-kind gifts – to U.N. agencies from all federal agencies’ budgets in FY2016.

The OMB will also have to make that information public in an online, searchable format. The first report will have to include figures for the three previous fiscal years too.

The requirement is a provision contained in the Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act (S. 1635), signed into law by President Obama on Friday. A previous such reporting requirement lapsed in 2011.

Americans who are used to seeing headline figures of around $3 billion for the U.N. – which is already more than the combined contributions of the vast majority of U.N. member states – may be surprised to learn that the actual amount that went to the U.N. in the last fiscal year will have been more than twice that.

That’s because the $3 billion figure only applies to the U.N.’s regular operating and peacekeeping budgets – of which the U.S. is “assessed” to be responsible for 22 and 28.5 percent respectively. (Assessment is according to each country’s “capacity to pay,” based on the size and strength of the national economy.)

But a range of U.S. agencies, including the Departments of State, Agriculture, Labor, Energy, Commerce, Defense, Agriculture and Health and Human Services, also contribute sizeable amounts in “voluntary contributions” to various U.N. agencies and bodies.

The last time the OMB was required by law to report on the total contributions, they amounted to $7.69 billion in FY2010 – up from $6.34 billion in FY2009, $6.09 billion in FY2008, and $4.16 billion in FY2007.

In its report due by late March, the OMB will have to provide breakdowns for each contributing U.S. department or agency, and with each receiving U.N. agency or affiliate identified.

It will also have to show in each case what percentage of the total amount received by each U.N. body from all sources came from the U.S.

The percentages are illuminating: In past years’ reports, in some cases the U.S. was shown to have accounted for some 40 percent of a particular U.N. body’s total contributions.

In FY2009, for example, the U.S. alone accounted for 41.4 percent of the total contributions to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); 40.1 percent of the total for the refugee agency UNHCR; 36.3 percent of the total for the World Food Program, and 34.8 percent of the total for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees.

Spotlight on Human Rights Council

The legislation signed into law on Friday includes provisions inserted by drafters in response to concerns about the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC), focusing on two issues in particular – its disproportionate focus on Israel, and the presence on the council of countries with poor human rights records.

Israel is the only country in the world to be the subject of a permanent agenda item at the Geneva-based HRC. That means that, irrespective of what may be happening anywhere else, every regular session of the council includes a focus on Israel, which more often than not ends with passage of several condemnatory resolutions.

The HRC also draws consistent criticism because at any given time its membership includes countries whose governments violate human rights. There is no mandatory requirement for membership, and the seats are filled each year in a secret ballot U.N. General Assembly vote.

Current members include China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Next year the 47-member council will have 11 countries graded as “not free” by Freedom House – Burundi, China, Congo, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The new U.S. legislation requires the administration to report annually on the resolutions adopted by the HRC; and on steps taken by the administration to remove permanent agenda items targeting a specific country or situation (Israel is currently the only one.)

The administration is also required to include in its report to Congress a list of all HRC members that are: subject to U.N. Security Council sanctions; under U.N. investigation for human rights abuses; are terror-sponsors; or are blacklisted under U.S. law for religious freedom abuses.

In another U.N.-related provision, the State Department authorization measure includes a statement of policy that the U.S. government will “strongly consider” a U.N. member-state’s voting practices at the world body before it enters into any agreements with that country.

The State Department has long been required to report to Congress annually on countries’ voting practices at the U.N. – comparing the votes of each member-state with those of the U.S. on a range of high-priority resolutions.

The most recent report found that the average voting coincidence with the U.S. in U.N. General Assembly votes was just 43.2 percent last year.

Some of the biggest recipients of U.S. aid voted the same way as the U.S. well below half of the time.

They included Pakistan (26.2 percent voting coincidence with the U.S.), Egypt (26.8 percent), Nigeria (30.1 percent), Afghanistan (30.6 percent), Iraq (31.1 percent), Kenya (32.4 percent) and Jordan (34.2 percent).

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