Turtle Bay

Do U.N. bureaucrats deserve a raise?

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has touted his efforts to impose a 3 percent cut in the U.N.’s budget as a sign of the U.N.’s commitment to fiscal austerity. Then the raises came. On Aug. 1, the U.N.’s International Civil Service Commission — a body of independent experts appointed by governments — granted a 3 percent ...

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has touted his efforts to impose a 3 percent cut in the U.N.’s budget as a sign of the U.N.’s commitment to fiscal austerity.

Then the raises came. On Aug. 1, the U.N.’s International Civil Service Commission — a body of independent experts appointed by governments — granted a 3 percent salary increase, or cost-of-living adjustment, to more than 4,800 U.N. staff who work in New York City.

The United States, which had praised Ban’s earlier cost-cutting initiative, protested the decision, noting that that American federal civil servants have been denied cost-of-living adjustments — called "locality pay" — since 2010.

"My government is deeply concerned by the decision … to increase the post adjustment index in New York and strongly objects to this increase," wrote Joseph Torsella, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for management and reform, in a letter to the United Nations. "Such a raise is inappropriate at this time of global fiscal austerity measures such as layoffs, service reductions, revenue increases, and reductions in pay and benefits for civil servants."

The letter comes as the U.N. has been announcing layoffs of U.N. workers, including a group of broadcast engineers, who were let go earlier this month. It comes several days after a reporter from Fox News posted a story about the salary increase.

The secretary-general’s office offered a clarification. "It was a decision by the International Civil Service Commission, whose members are elected by the member states, not a decision by the SG," said Vannina Maestracci, a spokeswoman for Ban.

"While we have the highest regard for the many dedicated professionals in the UN system, in these difficult times we must — at a minimum — forgo salary increases," Torsella wrote. "Failure to do so could well lead to more draconian approaches to budget-balancing in the future."

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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