The report noted that there were challenges specific to Americans that hindered hiring.

The report noted that there were challenges specific to Americans that hindered hiring. yann vernerie/Getty Images

New analysis shows U.S. staff are underrepresented at the UN

Despite being the top contributor to the United Nations, the GAO found that the number of American citizen employees at certain agencies fell short of geographic representation targets set by the international organization.

Americans are underrepresented among certain staff at United Nations agencies, according to a new Government Accountability Office report

The U.N. has designated positions called geographic staff that are subject to representation targets to promote equitable representation among member states. Such targets are generally based on membership status, population size and financial contributions. 

The GAO found that from 2015 to 2022 American representation was, for the most part, below these targets at the five U.N. organizations it reviewed: the Secretariat; World Health Organization; Food and Agriculture Organization; International Atomic Energy Agency; International Labour Organization. 

Additionally, the percentage of geographic positions filled by citizens of the U.S., which is the largest financial contributor to the U.N., at each of these agencies declined during the same period. And the attrition rate for Americans at all five organizations was higher than for non-Americans. 

In contrast, China had the largest increases in representation at the Secretariat and FAO. 

“Strategic competitors are increasingly prioritizing the hiring of their citizens to expand their influence in the UN system,” the report said. “While the U.S. government recognizes the importance of having Americans at the UN to advance its norms and values, U.S. citizen employment at the UN remains below established UN targets in certain organizations, such as those we reviewed.” 

Despite this, Americans still were the most represented nationality among geographic staff at four of the five organizations in the report. 

“Americans can be both the most prevalent nationality and be below representation targets because the United States is the member state with the highest target at all five organizations,” according to the report. 

GAO also found in 2001, 2006 and 2010 that U.S. citizens were generally underrepresented among U.N. geographic staff. 

American employees at the U.N. told GAO about multiple challenges to getting and continuing employment at their agencies, including confusing benefits packages and lengthy hiring processes. (The average hiring time in 2022 for each of the five organizations ranged from 5.2 to 6.9 months.) 

The report noted that these issues also could affect employees from other countries. But there were challenges specific to Americans, such as a lack of U.S. candidates who are proficient in more than one language and an incorrect perception that Americans are overrepresented. 

The State Department in 2021 established the Office of Multilateral Strategy and Personnel to encourage U.S. citizen employment at the U.N. and other international organizations. 

The office in 2023 published a strategy for such a purpose. In its report, the GAO recommended that State develop metrics for completing actions in the strategy. 

The department in a letter accompanying the report concurred with those recommendations as well as others related to the strategy.  

The GAO report was requested by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and ranking member Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., in addition to other members of the committee.