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UNICEF Veneman's $5.8 Million E-Mail Switch Denounced by Whistleblowers, Defended

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 24 -- The jewel of the UN system, its children's agency UNICEF, now not only refuses to provide simple budget information such as how much it spent flying country representatives to New York for a photo op with director Ann Veneman -- it defends without putting a dollar value on an initiative to switch all of UNICEF from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook.

   Whistleblowers within UNICEF say the switch was entirely Ms.Veneman's idea, that she worked on Microsoft as George W. Bush's Secretary of Agriculture and proposes to spend $5.8 million entirely unnecessarily. Below is what Inner City Press received from within UNICEF, then UNICEF's official response.

Subj: Scandal in UNICEF
From: [Address withheld due to fear of retaliation]
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 8/23/2009 8:30:48 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

Dear Matthew, Your article on Friday 21 August 2009 titled "At UNICEF, Quarter Million Dollar Photo-Ops Opaque for a week, Even a Child Could Answer" was very good, although it was very sad for UNICEF. Here is another example of how UNICEF under the inept leadership of Ann Veneman wastes its public and donor contributions. We are extremely concerned about what is going on in our Organization. Signed by: Concerned UNICEF Staff.

$5.8M being spent to please Ann Veneman to install Microsoft Outlook as her e-mail preference.

In the name of the Office Modernization Investment Project, UNICEF is spending USD5.8M, which would have gone otherwise to the world poorest children, to switch from the current well-functioning IBM Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook/Exchange. Not only this project was opposed by some of UNICEF’s own IT experts because there was no compelling technical reasons for such migration but also confirmed by the world’s IT consulting leader, Gartner Group (please refer to the research paper dated 22 December 2008) that the migration from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook/Exchange environment would yield no return on investment (ROI). Furthermore many parts of the IBM Lotus Connections packages are far better than what Microsoft has to offer. This research paper goes on to say that end-user demand, for example, senior executives who came to appreciate Outlook on their previous assignments, is the No.1 e-mail migration driver, based on emotions and not focusing on business issues.

According to the whistleblower, this is what is exactly happening in UNICEF. When Ann Veneman came to UNICEF in 2005, the first thing she complained about was her e-mail; “why aren’t we using Outlook? I want us to move to Microsoft.” For the last four years she has been pressing the IT division to migrate from IBM Lotus Notes application to the Microsoft environment to which she was accustomed while working with an US Government agency. Ann Veneman fired her first IT director in 2006 giving him the golden hand-shake, and then personally involved in selecting the new CIO who was familiar with Microsoft Office Suite. As soon as the new CIO joined UNICEF in the summer of 2007 she pressed him to migrate into the Microsoft environment. It was supposed to happen over a year ago…..He has just gotten his two year contract extended on the condition that he would finally deliver on the commitment made to introduce Outlook.

This is quite ironic when the UN has recently upgraded its IBM Notes to version 8 (from 6.5) for about 30,000 employees. The latest version apparently is quite powerful and users love it. Even non-IT people in UNICEF are saying it's hard to cost-justify migrating e-mail from IBM to Microsoft. Some staff who used to work with other agencies using Microsoft emphasize that IBM Lotus Notes products are superior to Microsoft. Calculating the e-mail migration cost is relatively easy. But calculating a tangible return on investment (ROI) is much harder, yet UNICEF’s own business case proposal inflated this cost savings which were disputed by some of their own experts.

In the current economic environment, moving e-mail users from Notes/Domino release to Outlook/Exchange is difficult to justify when you think about unnecessary user training for over 12,000 staff, 80 percent of them are spread over 150 field offices all over the world. To make the matter more complicated, other mission critical data are stored in Lotus Notes applications

Of course this Office Modernization Investment Proposal went through various internal review processes but controlled by the CIO and Ann Veneman whose only interest is to make sure she gets “Outlook”, no matter what. No one dares to say in public this is a waste of money and time in UNICEF.

   Because there is censorship within UNICEF, from fear of retailiation and also a loyalty so extreme it sometimes hurts the organization by keeping it from improving, Inner City Press publishes the above.

UNICEF and kids' computers, waste on email change not shown

  Inner City Press sought a response from UNICEF. Unlike the eight day delay before responding, without dollar figures, to Inner City Press' August 13 request for how much two UNICEF's events flying in over 100 people cost, this time UNICEF to its credit provided at least some response quickly:

Subj: Re: Press Questions re UNICEF's switch to Microsoft Outlook
From: [spokesperson at]
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 8/24/2009 5:19:48 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

Dear Matthew, UNICEF decided to migrate to Microsoft Exchange/Outlook because doing so meets organizational needs and priorities. The process was based strictly on organizational needs and cost-saving options that we have studied carefully. UNICEF has looked at the ongoing licensing burden, as part of its assessment of options, and found significant cost-savings based on this decision. The evidence shows this effort will be a building block in a superior email and communication environment. UNICEF is one of several UN agencies taking this step.

   But as we asked about the events flying UNICEF reps in from all over the world for photographs with Ann Veneman, running for re-election to UNICEF's top post in 2010, how much in public funds is being spent? Watch this site.

* * *

At UNICEF, Quarter Million Dollar Photo-Ops Opaque For a Week, Even a Child Could Answer

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 21, updated -- That public money should be accounted for is a principle often ignored in the UN, not only in Ban Ki-moon's Secretariat but also UNICEF run by Ann Veneman. Last week a UNICEF whistleblower complained to Inner City Press that Ms. Veneman in recent months convened all of the child agency's country representatives to New York for a "photo-op with each of them," calling this a waste of money directed at trying to get Ms. Veneman a second term as Executive Director.

  Inner City Press on August 13 asked UNICEF how much the event cost, and to respond to the complaint. And then Inner City Press waited.

    Eight days later, even after repeatedly reminding UNICEF of the request, still the requested information had not arrived. In the interim, a representative of UNICEF's Staff Association came forward to account for and defend a similar event, in which 155 staff representatives flew to Istanbul for a meeting, including the requisite photo-op with Ms. Veneman. The meeting had initially been planned for Mexico, but was moved in response to the outbreak of so-called swine flu.

   The staff representatives' event cost, in Daily Sustenance Allowance, $222 per day for six days for 155 representatives, plus seven or eight management types: that is, before airfare, $216,000. But what of the management-side country representatives' meeting in New York, with its higher DSA?

   A UNICEF spokesperson argued that the DSA levels are public, somewhere, and resisted provided the figure of how much it cost. On August 21, Inner City Press reiterated:

Eight days ago I asked UNICEF some simple questions. For some reason, and as shouldn't need to be reiterated, these remain unanswered:

how much was spend flying all the country office chiefs to New York three months ago?

what is your comment on charges by some (including within UNICEF) that these  were (1) inappropriate uses of funds during the global financial crisis and (2) related to a campaign for re-appointment as Executive Director?

please describe and quantify UNICEF's work in the IDP camps, described as without freedom of movement for IDPs, in Northern Sri Lanka, including what if anything UNICEF is doing to ensure that its assistance is not supporting a violation of international law and human rights, the involuntary confinement of IDPs.

From right, UN's Ban and Ms. Veneman, answers on costs & 2d terms not shown

Ironically, last night I spoke with Ms. Veneman at a farewell reception in the Delegates' Dining Room. She said she thought Inner City Press had already been given answers. But to the above, no answers have been provided. Extended deadline is now 5 p.m. today.

Regarding the quantitative question, while it seems UNICEF should be able to provide a total cost (use of publicly-raised funds), be sure to provide the number of people who attended,airfare and DSA and all other applicable costs. Thank you in advance.

  Nevertheless, UNICEF still did not provide the answers by deadline, eight days after the question was asked. When the answers are provided, they will be published on this site.

Footnote: as mentioned in the reiteration above, Ms. Veneman was at the farewell for French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert on Thursday night. She spoke with Inner City Press, not ungraceously, but insisted that everything was off the record and not for use. Meanwhile a well placed NGO chief, also there, told Inner City Press not for attribution that the U.S. is prepared to trade away Veneman's post in order to have more input imput on the next Secretary General. That doesn't bode well for Ms. Veneman.

Update 1 -- an answer has arrived about Sri Lanka, published in full herebelow:

"UNICEF has continued to respond to the most immediate needs of more than 280,000 IDPs in camps in Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee districts. A concrete example of our work in the camps would be the vaccination of some 27,000 IDP children against measles, polio and rubella between 3 and 7 August in the Vavuniya IDP camps."

   But what about the question that was asked, to describe "what if anything UNICEF is doing to ensure that its assistance is not supporting a violation of international law and human rights, the involuntary confinement of IDPs"?  Particularly eight days after the question was asked, shouldn't there be some answer?

   And what about the simple, eight day old question about money?

Update 2 -- later, the following arrived, still without any figure for how much the event cost:

The purpose of the “Leadership for Children in a Changing World” meeting you refer to, held in New York in late April, was to give the organization a valuable chance to discuss issues of strategic importance, in what has become a rapidly changing development landscape. Issues like; climate change, the economic crisis, the ‘youth bulge’ and innovations in technology.

The goal of the meeting was to provide a platform of discussion with key leaders and thinkers outside the organization, to help UNICEF better position and more sharply define our work for children, with the ultimate aim of generating the best possible results.

This meeting replaced a regular set of regional consultations that would otherwise have taken place, thereby offsetting the funding for this one. UNICEF conducts most of its business through phone or video conferences. However, bringing the leadership of the organization together at critical times is an important and valuable exercise that contributes to the overall improvement of UNICEF’s work for children. Most global organizations pause for this kind of reflection annually or every other year. In the case of UNICEF, the first such meeting was organized in 2004, in Dubai. Five years later, especially because of the financial crisis and its impact on children, it was essential to examine ways to continuously improve our work.

There were about 135 UNICEF staff brought in for this meeting.

  Inner City Press is informed the Daily Sustenance Allowance paid for this event in New York was higher than in Istanbul, at $378 a day -- that is, over $50,000 a day. But how many days did the event last? And what about the air fare? That is, what about the actual questions asked eight days ago:

how much was spend flying all the country office chiefs to New York three months ago?

what is your comment on charges by some (including within UNICEF) that these  were (1) inappropriate uses of funds during the global financial crisis and (2) related to a campaign for re-appointment as Executive Director?

  We will continue to dig into this. Watch this site.

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

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

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