Rep. Cliff Stearns

U.S. House of Representatives

Withholding Funds from Renovations for the United Nations Headquarters

An Amendment to the FY07 SSJC Appropriations bill

June 28, 2006


   Mr. STEARNS. Mr. Chairman, I have an amendment at the desk.

   The CHAIRMAN. The Clerk will designate the amendment.

   The text of the amendment is as follows:

   Amendment No. 20 offered by Mr. Stearns:

   At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following:


   SEC. 801. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used for the design, renovation, construction, or rental of any headquarters for the United Nations in any location in the United States.


   The CHAIRMAN. Pursuant to the order of the House of Tuesday, June 27, 2006, the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Stearns) and a Member opposed each will control 5 minutes.

   The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Florida.

   Mr. STEARNS. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

   My amendment would prohibit funds from the United States being used for the design, renovation, construction or rental of any headquarters for the United Nations in any location in the United States.

   I offered this type of amendment 1 year ago, and then I agreed to withdraw it. My honorable colleague, Chairman Wolf joined me in requesting a GAO investigation of the United Nations headquarters renovation. That ongoing investigation has done little to advance our understanding of what the U.N. is doing besides how good the U.N. is at spending our taxpayers' money.

   One of the lead experts in the GAO's ongoing investigation, Thomas Malito, testified in the Senate just last week. ``The U.N. is vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement due to a range of weaknesses in existing oversight practices.'' That is why I have returned to ask that we withhold funding until the United Nations makes public and transparent its contracting and disbursement information relative to the renovations.

   The United Nations estimates that the planned renovation of its headquarters building in New York City would cost $1.7 billion, billion, for a work site that is over 2 1/2 million square feet.

   The most expensive building sold in Manhattan, the General Motors building, recently sold for $1.4 billion. The entire U.N. building could be built again for under $2 billion. Still, repair and refurbishing are activities that involve greater financial opportunities, one would suppose.

   Now, even if the U.N. cost estimates remain constant, a big if, the U.S. share of renovation would be about $480 million. That would be in addition to our regular annual dues of $423 million, plus all other contributions of nearly $2.4 billion.

   The General Assembly has yet to approve a plan amongst the four being considered, but the U.N. has already spent almost $40 million on preferred renovation plans, $20 million in the last month alone, according to the GAO.

   The GAO also found that the $1.7 billion cost estimate only scratches the surface of the expected costs. The estimate does not include any of the following: new furniture, at least $100 million per year for an unknown number of years; new security costs, as well as temporary security costs during construction; new phones and information technology systems; and new office equipment.

   Moreover, according to the GAO, ``While the U.N. has yet to finalize a specific procurement strategy for the renovation project, to the extent that it relies on current U.N. processes, implementation of the planned renovation is vulnerable to the procurement weaknesses we have identified previously.'' And the GAO continues: ``For example, it has not,'' the U.N. now, ``has not established an independent process to consider vendor protests that could alert senior U.N. officials of failure by procurement staff.'' And the U.N. has yet to establish an independent bid process, something that the U.S. Government has in place and we all take for granted.

   In addition, although the U.N.'s Office of Internal Oversight Service, OIOS, has a mandate establishing it as an independent oversight entity and to conduct oversight of the renovation, it lacks the budgetary independence it requires to carry out its responsibilities. The OIOS is dependent on the whims of the very department and program heads it is auditing. The problems with this setup were made plain in the Oil-for-Food program when OIOS was prevented from examining high-risk areas where billions of dollars were subsequently found to have been misused.

   Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the patience of my good friend from Virginia, Chairman Wolf, on this amendment, and his approach to the very difficult work of crafting and passing the appropriation bill for this subcommittee. In this case, dealing with the United Nations, we have 61 years of patience, and this patience has to be very frustrating for all of us. But, Mr. Chairman, do we simply continue to grant the United Nations the possibility of continued corruption and possibly graft with this project? I don't think so.

   Mr. WOLF. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the amendment; and I would first like to yield 2 1/2 minutes of my time to the gentleman from West Virginia (Mr. Mollohan).

   Mr. MOLLOHAN. I thank the chairman for yielding; and I want to join him in opposing this amendment.

   Really, to support this amendment you have to oppose the U.N., because this goes to the very ability of the United Nations to perform its responsibilities. It has to have a home. It has to have a house. It has to have space to operate in.

   The U.N. is old. It is a fire hazard. There is a number of safety concerns associated with it. There is a request in this bill from the administration for $22 million to address these concerns, or our share of these concerns, and I think that a limitation amendment is exactly the wrong thing to do here.

   We have had a lot of cuts in this bill, and this kind of a limitation really is a statement that the United States of America does not want to participate in the U.N. into the future. It is just that serious. It has to have a home. It is, in my judgment, not only ill-advised but really silly if you believe we should have a United Nations to begin with.

   I oppose the amendment and encourage very strongly that everyone oppose the amendment.

   Mr. WOLF. Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong opposition to this amendment, and let me read a letter from our Secretary of State, Secretary Rice.

   She says, ``I write in strong support of our contribution to the U.N. Capital Master Plan.'' That is what we are talking about, CMP.

``The U.N. facilities pose a number of serious safety and security concerns for the American and foreign staffs, diplomats, and visitors.'' Many of these are American citizens. ``In particular, the U.N. facilities do not,'' do not, ``meet fire and life-safety building codes or modern security requirements. We support the renovation of the facilities to address these deficiencies.

   ``The Department remains strongly committed to ensuring transparency and effective oversight of the project. We have worked closely with U.N. Under Secretary General Chris Burnham,'' who is an American, ``to take steps to strengthen internal controls of the CMP. In particular, Under Secretary General Burnham, with our support, has set up a U.N. CMP Project Office as an independent office reporting to him. The U.N. CMP Project Office has allowed access to project documents and review of ongoing work. And, the CMP Project Office has used a value engineering process and third-party contractor reviews of design documents to improve cost and quality control.

   ``We realize this will be an ongoing effort and are committed to close U.S. Government monitoring of the project's implementation throughout its life span. I urge full funding for this important renovation project.''

   What if there were a fire at the U.N.? What if something happened and we were to deny this money?

   I have been as critical of the U.N. as anybody for their failure to deal with the issue of Darfur and things like this. They stood by and allowed Srebeniza to take place. They stood by and allowed Rwanda. But I am not going to stand by and allow the building to crumble and not have safety conditions in the building.

   So I ask you, before you vote on this, take a minute to look at the letter of the Secretary of State. The administration is not for the Stearns amendment. It is a safety issue not only for American citizens but also the foreigners at work in the building. But also American visitors. If you go to the U.N., there are many tourists that go through the building.

   So I strongly urge a ``no'' vote on the amendment; and again I urge you, if you have any doubts, come over and read the letter from Secretary Rice. It is a safety issue.

   I urge defeat of the Stearns amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

   The CHAIRMAN. The question is on the amendment offered by the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Stearns).

   The question was taken; and the Chairman announced that the noes appeared to have it.

   Mr. STEARNS. Mr. Chairman, I demand a recorded vote.

See the original in the Congressional Record on Pages H4752 and H4753

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