Senate Hearings for US Ambassador for UN Management and Reform

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on the nomination of Joseph M. Torsella as the United States Ambassador for UN Management and Reform (and alternate US Ambassador to the General Assembly.) Torsella is a former head of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education; former Deputy Mayor of the city of Philadelphia; former Rhodes Scholar; and for the past decade the President and CEO of the National Constitution Center, which is a museum and civic center in Philadelphia. (It was the cite chosen for then-candidate Barack Obama’s speech on race relations in the United States.) Torsella also launched two (unsuccessful) bids for elected office in Pennsylvania.

So, does this impressive biography mean he’s got the chops for UN reform?  At least one former United Nations Ambassador thinks so: President George H.W Bush, who served as UN Ambassador from 1971 to 1973, has written in support of Torsella’s nomination, saying, “I would have been proud to have him on my team.”

We will only find out, though, if he actually gets the opportunity to prove himself.  That is not a sure bet —  at least anytime soon.  The Senate, in general, has been very slow to approve President Obama’s nominees for various positions for reasons completely unrelated to their individual qualifications.

Still, Torsella’s hearing today does give some insight into the Obama administration’s priorities for UN Reform.

This is from a back and forth with Senator Jeanne Shaheen:

Sen. Shaheen: Do you, going to your appointment, your hopeful appointment, as you think about the management and reform piece at the UN, what are your most important priorities that you see needing to be accomplished there?

Torsella: Senator, I think first of all, I would want to reserve the right to avail myself to the tremendous wisdom that exists in the Mission and the State Dept about the state of play if I do have the honor of being confirmed. But today I see three priorities at the highest level. One is to expend and strengthen the oversight function at the UN, because at the UN, as in all organizations, that really determines  whether dollars are being spent properly and whether we’re getting the results we want. The OIOS which was established because of US leadership is off to a promising start and with a new head. But there are still ways, important ways, that the financial independence of OIOS, the operating independence of OIOS and in fact the staffing of OIOS need to be improved and supported for it to do its job. So that’s priority number 1.

Priority number two I think is broadly issues of budget discipline, because they are so systemic to the organization and because the stakes are so high for us and to the member states at the UN. And in particular to try to focus the budget discussions less on inputs and more on results.

And number 3, I would focus finally on the systemic reforms that can bring lasting change, not just generate outcomes for a week or a month. By that I mean for example extending the reach of the ethics framework to the organization or continuing as the US has to support the implementation of a software system that has the potential to save tens of , in some estimates to hundreds of millions of dollars by standardizing systems across this vast landscape. So from today those are the three priorities I see.

Sen. Shaheen: And can you elaborate a little more on how you would evaluate how successful you are in accomplishing those priorities? What are the instruments that you’;ll use and how do you achieve success there?

Torsella: Well Madame Chair the key word in your question is, I think the key word for much of the UN system going forward, is in fact measurements. The US has promoted the use of definable, publically acknowledged metrics for evaluating results. And that’s an effort that has much farther to go, and would want to push in that direction.

In terms of the 3 goals that I’ve outlined I would hope you would see the results of my work in connection with all the other colleagues I’d be working with and the coalitions we would try and build, in a strengthened, fully staffed, fully supported office of internal oversight service number one, and number two a budget process that is rational and understandable that has for various programs specific metrics for outcomes. And number three on the issue of system wide change, I’d like to hope that what I’m able to do if confirmed you’d be able to point to not just a week after I leave the job but a decade after I leave the job. Thank you.

These are all very important priorities. And as the United Nations’ biggest funder, the United States is in a better position than other countries to make these reforms a reality. Also, in a time of budget austerity, it would only seem reasonable that the United States has a full time ambassador at the United Nations whose job it is to stretch the value of every American dollar spent there.

So, with that, I plead to the Senate:  Do your job and at least hold a vote on the man!