Productivity Improvements

(1)     At its 87th session ( see Documents: ACC/1997/FB/R.21 & Corr.1; ACC/1997/FB/R.27; ACC/1997/FB/87/CRP.3) there was an in depth discussion of opportunities to augment income by charging fees for services or increasing cost recovery.

Organizations exchanged information on experiences in identifying value-added services, such as processing of international applications for patents and registration of trademarks, satellites and Freephone numbers where the services rendered were valuable to recipients and where a substantial income might be generated by charging fees, especially to the private sector. It was recognized, however, that there were major differences between organizations' mandates which meant that application of the cost recovery principle in one organization would not be relevant to another organization. The mandate of some organizations essentially precluded activities of a commercial nature. Caution was necessary in using private fund-raising mailing organizations which might promise, but fail to produce, large private sector contributions. The Committee accepted UNICEF's offer to make a presentation at its 1998 session on the financial management and internal control implications of private sector fund-raising.

(2)     With regard to cost recovery, it was essential to separate cost recovery from sister organizations and cost recovery for services rendered to third parties (Member States, NGOs, etc.). Cost recovery within the United Nations system should be based on reasonable charges, including prior consultation and agreement. The Committee noted the issues raised by the action of the United Nations in increasing cost recovery from the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund (see discussion below). It was increasingly important for those organizations recovering costs from other organizations to agree on a suitable methodology for measuring and then allocating costs. It would be desirable if work could be undertaken on a policy paper covering the issues involved in inter-organization charges, taking into account organizations' experience in this area.

(3)     With regard to cost recovery from third parties, this offered some potential to defray costs by, inter alia, a more equitable sharing with donors of the costs of support for operational activities. Organizations should bear in mind that the incremental costs of any necessary systems to measure costs and to invoice and collect charges can sometimes be high in relation to the costs to be recovered. Organizations should continue to exchange information in order to benefit from each other's positive experience and to avoid some of the pitfalls encountered when entering unfamiliar territory.

(4)     At its 89th session (February 1999: ACC/1999/6, para. 33) UNDP briefed the Committee on the progress of an informal working group drafting a cost recovery policy. Further consultation would take place and a draft policy paper would be submitted to the next session. Participants exchanged information on their experience in developing and applying rates for direct and indirect cost recovery.

(5)     At the same session (ibid., para. 44) CCAQ was briefed by the United Nations on the progress of the Task Force on Common Services. The Committee was advised that since its last session, the Task Force's terms of reference had been revised and made more focussed and its membership had been reduced to nine core members from the key UN Offices and funds and programmes in New York. This approach was showing results leading to more tangible recommendations. Some of the working groups were being chaired by the funds and programmes, which was generating a greater spirit of cooperation. The intention also was to expand common services to other locations beyond Geneva and Vienna, such as Tokyo and Bangkok.

(6)     At its 90th session (August-September 1999: ACC/1999/14, para. 7) organizations reaffirmed their commitment to finding ways of improving productivity and cost-effectiveness and were pleased to note that the agenda items for the session were in large part concentrated on UN system reform initiatives, new ways of conducting business and possibilities for productivity improvements, including use of information technology.

(7)     At the same session (ibid., paras. 27-29) the Committee discussed the new CCAQ(FB) web site, work on performance indicators and the use of video-conferencing. It was given a presentation on the web site and informed that documents for the present session had been provided in Adobe Acrobat .ftp format, as would all future documents. It was agreed that the initiative undertaken by the Committee's secretariat had been well worthwhile and that development work should include creation of an index of issues with links to relevant sections of the CCAQ Handbook as well as to underlying documents and background material with a "chat room" to enable inter-sessional discussion by Committee members of subjects of interest. The Committee then exchanged information on organizations' recent experience in developing and using performance indicators. UNIDO had reduced the previous large number of indicators to 9 key ones. More detailed indicators at the programme level would be developed for internal use only. Other organizations discussed their approach to development of indicators, including the use of consultants and/or specialists on loan from Member States. UNDP provided relevant documents for incorporation into the web site. The Committee requested its Secretary to keep in touch with the Secretary of CCPOQ to ensure a coordinated approach on performance indicators between budget and programme staff. The Committee discussed the recent experience of Video Conferencing, which was used to link four duty stations (New York, Geneva, Rome and Vienna) to discuss Year 2000 issues. There were both advantages and disadvantages and while the Committee agreed that Video Conferencing was unlikely to be a viable substitute for formal sessions of the Committee, further experimentation with Video Conferencing was to be encouraged when appropriate. IAEA indicated that it had successfully used this technology for recruitment interviews.

(8)     Also at this session (ibid., paras. 30-32) the Committee was briefed on the progress made by the Common Services Project. A change in working culture was evident, with a move from an "organization-centric" culture to one of cooperation fostered by the mutual benefits arising from common arrangements. The Strategy Framework of the Common Services Task Force contained four elements: Improvement of Central Services, Implementation of Common Service Approaches, Coordination of Activities and Promotion of the Common Services beyond New York. The implementation and coordination of common services in Geneva and Vienna were under the direct leadership of the Directors-General of UNOG and UNOV respectively. An approach involving demand-driven processes, rather than "top-down" management had facilitated exchanges of information and the identification of "best/good practices" with emphasis on attaining quality, efficient and effective substantive results rather than on the establishment of common service facilities, although this was continually given due consideration. The various initiatives for joint services were discussed and it was agreed that in future the Common Service project would provide general updates to the High Level CCAQ, while technical updates would be provided as appropriate to CCAQ(FB) and CCAQ(PER).

(9)     The Committee at the same session (ibid., paras. 33-34) reviewed organizations' experience in developing electronic sale and distribution of material or services and was briefed by UNDP on the use of secure E mail - including electronic authentication of payment requests and use of encryption to prevent interception by third parties. ILO had agreed to use ITU's Electronic Bookshop facility for sale of ILO publications. Organizations discussed the advantages and disadvantages of using the Internet to attract contributions from individuals and from the private sector and considered the issues of electronic acceptance of credit cards and the public listing of bank accounts specifically established to receive contributions. It was agreed that links to the relevant web site pages of those organizations using the Internet in this way would be included on the CCAQ(FB) web site. The Committee welcomed UNDP's initiative in attempting to improve security and to reduce the possibility of fraud but expressed caution about the cost and complexity involved in introducing and maintaining certificate authority. It agreed that further work on developing a policy and a framework for procedures would be necessary before the proposed secure E mail could be used on a system-wide basis.

(10)     UNDP also briefed the Committee on a proposed draft policy on cost recovery for services and suggested changing the requirements for supporting documentation for IOVs submitted by UNDP country offices to other UN system organizations (ibid., paras. 35-37). The Committee expressed its appreciation for UNDP's initiatives. Concern was expressed about the complexity of the methodology to calculate the costs for each service and a fixed schedule of fees was preferred by one organization. UNDP explained that clients and service providers would have the flexibility to find the right balance between complexity, accuracy and transparency in accordance with the needs of all parties involved. Given the variety of services and differences in price levels between countries, the paper had made an effort to identify the type of cost items rather than specific reimbursement levels. The Committee decided to return to this question at its next session. With regard to the invoicing of services with an invoice value of less than $200, UNDP reiterated its previous position that, given the large number of country offices and the number of agencies requesting services from each country office, it could not afford to absorb costs under $200. Accordingly UNDP country offices would continue to invoice services as costs were incurred. On the question of IOVs, the Committee agreed that it was premature to agree to a system-wide acceptance of a new policy but that it was appropriate to undertake further work, including testing on a bilateral basis with interested organizations.

(11)     At its 91st session (August-September 2000: ACC/2000/6, para. 25) the Committee considered General Assembly Resolution 54/255 calling for a report by the United Nations at the General Assembly session starting in September 2001 on measures taken to enhance common services in Geneva. The United Nations briefed the Committee on the progress made by the Common Services Task Force in New York and noted that the proposed establishment of a common services committee in Geneva could function along similar lines. The Executive Coordinator in New York would be available to provide support by sharing and facilitating exchange of information and experience. The Director of Administration of the United Nations Office at Geneva briefed participants on the status of common services in Geneva and the plan to establish a Management Ownership Committee to which the Director General of UNOG would invite Executive Heads of Geneva-based organizations. This Committee would meet once a year and would set overall policy direction. A subsidiary Committee, made up of Heads of Administration, was expected to meet about three times a year to monitor progress and give more detailed direction to working groups of specialists, which would be set up to study specific areas that might benefit from common services and to make appropriate recommendations.

(12)     At the same session (ibid., para. 28) the Committee was briefed by the Assistant Administrator of UNDP on the publication of "Guidelines for Operational Support Services by UNDP." Participants exchanged views as to areas of concern to them and suggested possible ways of simplifying cost recovery methodology. While it was agreed that organizations would in the first instance deal with UNDP country offices directly on any contentious issues, UNDP invited organizations to bring any outstanding issues, including those that could not be resolved bilaterally with UNDP country offices, to the attention of UNDP headquarters for resolution. UNDP would also seek to simplify the methodology through a standardized fee-based system and provide clear guidelines on its application. Any such changes would be posted on the CCAQ (FB) web site for information and comments.

 (13) At its twenty second session (CEB/2011/5, paras.71-83), the Committee:

    o    Noted the initiatives for improving efficiencies and cutting costs reported by its members and encouraged a rapid scale-up or replication of these measures, where possible. It recognized the added-value of larger, system-wide savings generated by initiatives already undertaken or in the pipeline as part of the HLCM Plan for the Harmonization of Business Practices, and recommended active engagement in such projects by all member organizations.

    o    Requested organizations that have put forward new ideas, or submitted preliminary information on implemented efficiency measures, to complete their submissions to the CEB Secretariat with comprehensive financial evidence by the end of October 2011.

    o    Agreed to organize a Round Table discussion in November 2011 with interested HLCM members to address difficult and recurring issues on improving efficiency and effectiveness that their organizations are confronted with, and to discuss and compare promising initiatives.

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