Senators Demand Transparency in U.S. Taxpayer Funding of United Nations

By Patrick Goodenough | May 22, 2013 | 4:59am EDT

United Nations member-states’ flags fly at U.N. headquarters in New York City. (U.N. Photo by J.C. McIlwaine)

( – Some American taxpayers know that they contribute more than one-fifth of the United Nations operating budget, but the full extent of U.S. contributions to the world body – a much larger figure – has been less well known since a congressional reporting requirement lapsed in 2011.

A group of Republican senators wants to change that.

Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Mike Lee, (R-Utah) and others are submitting legislation that would require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to report contributions to the U.N. each year from every federal agency, including non-monetary gifts.

“It’s disturbing that no one, including our ambassador to the United Nations, knows exactly how much money we send the U.N. every year,” Enzi said in a statement.

“With a national debt exceeding $17 trillion, we need to be able to account for every dime we spend, including what we send to the U.N.”

The State Department does currently report on its spending at the U.N. but, although the largest, it is just one of a number of federal agencies that contribute to the U.N. system every year.

The new bill would require OMB to report on all agencies.

“This will give us a more accurate picture on spending,” Enzi said. “In these financially challenging times, even in Washington, every billion, every million, every dollar should count.”

In its fiscal year 2014 State and Foreign Operations budget proposal released last month, the administration requested $1.573 billion for contributions to international organizations, of which $617.6 million was earmarked for the U.N. operating budget.

While that request marks an increase from the FY2012 sum of $1.551 billion (including $568.8 million for the U.N. operating budget), it is far from the actual amount that will be spent across the federal government.

An OMB reporting requirement similar to the one the senators are pushing for was included in FY2007 defense authorization legislation, so from FY2006 to FY2010 the OMB submitted reports. But the requirement was not made permanent and expired in 2011.

The last OMB report to Congress under that mandate, issued in June 2011 and covering FY2010, showed that the State Department was just one of 17 government agencies that contributed to U.N. organizations, funds, affiliates and other bodies – and that the total expenditure that fiscal year was $7.69 billion.

Other contributing agencies included the Departments of Agriculture, Labor, Energy, Commerce, Defense, Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

Those annual OMB reports also showed how much those total U.N. contributions had increased over the years – from $4.54 billion in FY2006 to $7.69 billion in FY2010.

Apart from the billions of dollars going to various bodies within the U.N. system, the U.S. also provides 22 percent of the operating budget, which finances the U.N. Security Council, General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and several other bodies, as well as more than 25 percent of the peacekeeping budget.

Those contributions are assessed according to members states’ relative “capacity to pay,” calculated from national economic output.

The next biggest contributors are Japan (10.83 percent), Germany (7.14 percent), France (5.59 percent), Britain (5.18 percent) and China (5.15 percent).

Next come Italy (4.45 percent), Canada (2.98 percent), Spain (2.97 percent), Brazil (2.93 percent), Russia (2.44 percent) and Australia (2.07 percent). No other country pays as much as two percent, and most pay below one percent.

Between them, the U.S. and Japan alone contribute one-third of the total budget – and roughly the same as the next seven countries combined.

Meanwhile in the House of Representatives, Republican lawmakers also have their sights on U.S. contributions to the U.N.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said this month she plans to reintroduce legislation from the last Congress that would make U.S. funding to the U.N. conditional on far-reaching reforms. The U.N. Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act sought changes to the way the U.N. is funded, allowing member states to fund only those activities and agencies they determine are efficient and in the national interest.

The administration, which opposes any such change, contends that working through the U.N. and other international organizations is of significant benefit to taxpayers and furthers U.S. national interests.

“By combining resources and expertise, international organizations undertake coordinated efforts that are an effective alternative to acting unilaterally or bilaterally, especially in the areas of providing humanitarian assistance, eradicating disease, setting food and transportation safety standards, and reaching agreement to impose sanctions on rogue states and actors,” it said in its FY2014 State budget justification.

“International organizations facilitate collective action by the world community to combat violent extremism; limit the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons; achieve balanced and sustainable economic growth; and forge solutions to the threats of armed conflict, hunger, poverty, and climate change.”

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