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Murky World of UN Mainframes Serviced by Non-Staff Personnel, Outsourcing without Bids

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, February 20 -- The UN still uses mainframe computers, which often lead to delays and are serviced by mistreated non-staff personnel, it has emerged. The murky world of the UN's computer systems was alluded to this week, when Under Secretary General Alicia Barcena wrote to staff that her Department of Management's Information Technology Services Division has its work performed "under a service agreement [with] the International Computing Centre, an entity sponsored by the World Health Organization." As it turns out, WHO's own internal auditor has recommended a "critical review of WHO's continuance as host for the Centre... WHO is no longer fully informed of financial and contractual arrangements entered into by the Centre. Senior management has accepted the Office's recommendations and has notified the Chairman of the Management Committee of WHO's intention to relinquish the role of host organization."

            The Centre, it turns out, was formed by UNDP and WHO in 1971; its work then as now, still, includes working on mainframe computers. Yes, the UN still uses mainframes. Just this week, portions of the UN secretariat suffered delays in sending and receiving e-mail, and the UN's web site's performance was impaired. Meanwhile, questions about this ICC entity, which maintains the mainframes and even acts as internet service provider to some in the UN system including the International Labor Organization and the are met with blank stares, and admonitions to "ask WHO." The what? Come again?

Mainframes back in the day, today tighter, less pleasant quarters

            The ICC has been "hosting databases for thirteen UN agencies, funds and programs." Sources tell Inner City Press that these UN entities use the ICC rather than their own staff because fewer benefits are paid to the ICC personnel. While it is a form of outsourcing, there is no competition, no bidders, no comparables to compare costs with. Despite calls for and vows of transparency and access, the Assistant Secretary General for ICT has even now yet to hold a press conference since his installation. Developing.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540