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Congressional Funding of the United Nations: An Inside Perspective on an Intricate, Delicate Relationship

September 19, 2015
In working at the United Nations Foundation this summer, I have developed a much greater appreciation for the unique and complex process by which the United Nations and its many programs are funded by the United States.

by Hannah Greene, MSP’16

The UN Foundation, based in Washington, DC, works to both advocate for its 11 individual campaigns, and encourage the public and Congress to support a strong, effective, fully funded UN in general. In this capacity, the UN Foundation acts as a traditional grant-maker and a problem solver through advocacy work. The Foundation was created in 1998 as a U.S. public charity by philanthropist Ted Turner with his historic $1 billion gift to support UN causes and activities.

The UN Foundation works closely with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to solve challenges such as poverty, climate change, energy access, population pressure, gender equity, and disease. Each year, the United States contributes to the United Nations more than any other country: 22% of the general UN budget, and 27% of the UN peacekeeping budget. What many do not realize is that the United Nations has a significant ROI, as the work of the UN is often directly furthering US global interests. Because of this slight public resistance and the nature of our bureaucracy, the process by which the UN is funded is somewhat complex.

 As many may already know, the United Nations was established in 1945 following two devastating world wars in order to foster global peace, prosperity and justice, and much of the work of the UN Foundation is still aimed at furthering these core ideals. What is less widely known is that funding for the UN and its many agencies comes from two sources: assessed and voluntary contributions from nation states. The UN funds its activities, ranging from elections in Afghanistan to fighting the AIDS epidemic in Africa, through member countries’ annually assessed dues for general operations and peacekeeping. Assessed contributions are considered obligatory, as part of the agreement that nations undertook when signing the treaty. These assessments, based on member states’ ability to pay, provide the most reliable source of funding for core UN functions, such as regular operations and peacekeeping budgets. Contrastingly, voluntary contributions are left to the discretion of each individual member state, and make up nearly half of all UN funding. These altruistically driven grants finance the UN’s humanitarian relief and development agencies, including the UN Children’s Fund, the World Food Program (WFP), the UN Development Program (UNDP), and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

An understanding of the process by which the UN is funded by the United States is critical in understanding the dynamic between these international and domestic bodies. Annually, the president initiates the funding process by asking for the payment to the United Nations in his budget proposal. The State Department’s budget includes the US assessed contribution to the UN’s regular budget, along with 43 other UN-system, regional, and non-UN organizations, in its Contributions to International Organizations (CIO) account. US assessed contributions to the UN’s peacekeeping operations are accounted for in the State Department’s Contributions to International Peacekeeping Activities (CIPA) account. Congress then refines the president’s request, and allocates funds for the United Nations in an appropriations bill. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees write the bill that specifies how much money federal agencies may spend, and begins drafting these bills in early spring. The subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs sets the funding level for the State Department and the UN. In an ideal world, the House and the Senate take up each appropriations bill, pass it, and resolve differences between the two houses in a conference committee, then vote again on the compromised bill, all before the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1st. However, Congress often resorts to stop-gap spending measures as the fiscal year deadline passes, and individual bills take the form of omnibus spending measures to save time. Finally, the president signs an appropriations bill passed by both the House and the Senate into law.


FY’13 Actual

FY’14 Estimate

FY’15 President’s Request

FY’15 BWC Request


$1.913 billion

$1.765 billion*

$2.518 billion

$2.625 billion


$1.472 billion

$1.34 billion

$1.517 billion

$1.517 billion

CIO - UN Regular Budget

$568 million

$618 million

$620 million

 $620 million


$490.2 million

$435.6 million*

$336.15 million

 $501.65 million**

Peacekeeping Response Mechanism (OCO)

$150 million

 $150 - $275 million


*The FY’14 omnibus appropriations bill provided $194 million in PKO to pay U.S. assessments for the UN Office for AMISOM.
**This amount includes $165.5 million to pay U.S. assessments for UNSOA. The Administration included UNSOA funding under its CIPA request.

Through my internship, I have been able to experience firsthand the frustrations and achievements related to Congress’ relationship with the United Nations and its programs. My internship happens to be within the Universal Access Project, an advocacy campaign under the UN Foundation which aims to promote international access to reproductive healthcare and rights. I was disheartened to learn that at present, more than 225 million girls and women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy, but are not using safe and effective family planning methods. Many of these women are highly vulnerable to the risk of dying from pregnancy-related complications and seeing their children die as well, often from malnutrition due to an inability to provide sustenance for an unplanned family. Each day, approximately 800 girls and women die from pregnancy-related causes. Amid all of these staggering statistics, I was relieved to find that the United States is the largest donor to reproductive health programs around the world, and that since the start of UAP in 2008, there has been a 30 percent increase in US funding for international reproductive health and family planning. However, there is clearly still much work to be done. During my time at UAP this summer, my coworkers conducted a fellowship which brought American journalists to Haiti, to capture the riveting stories of women, girls, men, and boys, related to family planning, to eventually share with Congress and the public. These personal accounts are critical in the quest for a productive relationship between the US and UN, beginning with stable funding from Congress.

For those feeling empowered, the Universal Access Project is currently accepting submissions for our contest called Why We Care Youth. The contest aims to raise awareness about the importance of reproductive healthcare domestically and internationally, as we as participants share “why we care” about this critical topic that many of us might take for granted. The top three winners in each category, photo, video, and written, will win an all-expense paid trip to New York City during the UN General Assembly in September (September 15-28), and passes to attend the UN Foundation’s Social Good Summit. For more information about the contest or about how to encourage Congress to continue supporting the UN on a broader scale, visit www.universalaccessproject.org.

Further Reading:

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