Press Releases

    GA/AB/3722
    15 March 2006

    Budget Committee Takes up Report on Standardized Access Control, Aimed at Strengthening Security at All United Nations Locations

    NEW YORK, 14 March (UN Headquarters) -- As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today took up measures to achieve a strengthened and unified security management system within the United Nations, several representatives raised questions regarding the Secretary-General's report that was presented in connection with a standardized access control system.

    The report was requested by the Assembly, in Section XI, paragraph 44 of its resolution 59/276, in which it deferred its consideration of the global access control system, pending receipt of a detailed report on its integration with previously approved programmes; its impact on human resources requirements in the area of safety and security; the characteristics of each duty station; and the global identity management system.

    Egypt's representative said, however, that just one paragraph of the report responded to the Assembly's request for detailed information.  When the Fifth Committee agreed to a draft resolution by consensus, and that text was later totally disregarded in the report, it was necessary to reflect on the time, effort and resources wasted in the context of the Committee, when delegations came to discuss the same issue for the third time.  He did not see how it was possible to reach a decision on the issues involved, on the basis of the current document.

    Numerous questions were also raised by the representative of South Africa, who spoke on behalf of the Group of 77 and China.  She agreed that the report on standardized access control fell "well short" of addressing the request made by the Assembly, and did not provide sufficient information regarding various aspects of the project, adding that the Secretariat should not deal with issues pertaining to safety and security in a piecemeal manner, or without overall guidance and management by the Department of Safety and Security.  In that connection, she asked for clarification of the fact that, while the Assembly had assigned primary responsibility for safety and security to that Department, the report also made references to the role of the Department of Management.

    She said another question concerned the fact that additional resources were sought for the "baseline security level", which appeared to be constantly shifting, without clearly making allowance for individual characteristics of each location, or the investment already made.  The Group asked for an elaboration and further justification of the resources being sought, including a breakdown of the project on a site-by-site basis.  It would also be important to get an indication as to how the results of the assessment of the infrastructure of the main locations were reflected in the proposal.

    Brazil's representative also asked for detailed responses to the questions posed by the Group of 77, and expressed concern at the recruitment for professional posts, as he believed strongly in geographical distribution of posts.

    Introducing the report, Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, David Veness, said that four main areas had been identified as those in need of immediate strengthening: perimeter security, closed circuit TV (CCTV), vehicle and pedestrian access points and security of control rooms.  The objective was to enhance security, as quickly as possible, to address "must haves", in advance of "should haves", for the offices away from Headquarters in Nairobi, Geneva and Vienna; for the regional commissions in Santiago, Addis Ababa, Bangkok and Beirut; for the International Tribunals in The Hague and Arusha; and for the Annex buildings in New York.

    To that end, a two-phased approach was being proposed, he said.  In the first phase, measures would be taken to rectify identified shortcomings, with estimated requirements of some $23 million, to be met through temporary "reprioritization" of approved projects.  At the same time, a detailed plan would be developed for the implementation of the second phase, designed to address location specific vulnerabilities.  The report made clear that the true aim of the project was to reduce critical location-specific security vulnerabilities.  The proposed measures were to ensure that access to the premises, and within, were controlled, in order to provide for a safe and secure workplace and environment for United Nations staff.

    Austria's representative, on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that the main message for the immediate future was that all duty stations should be on the same baseline security level.  That action was dealt with in the first phase, and it was necessary to act swiftly on that request.  Those that requested most attention at the current stage were Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Santiago.  Regarding the proposed second phase, the Union could agree to a study phase, but did not want to commit itself to a globally integrated project at this stage.

    Also this morning, Katrina Nowlan, Chief of the Common Support Services, Office of the Programme Planning and Budget Division, introduced the Secretary-General's note on information and communication technology security, business continuity and disaster recovery.  Related reports of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) were introduced by the Chairman of that body, Rajat Saha.

    The next meeting of the Committee will be announced.

    Background

    The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met today to consider business continuity and standardized access control.

    The Committee had before it a note by the Secretariat regarding information and communication technology security, business continuity and disaster recovery (document A/60/677), which recalls that, in its resolution 59/276, the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to submit to the Assembly at its sixtieth session, the results of a technical study on the issue, with detailed costing and a timetable.  The Secretariat initiated a comprehensive review of the issues of the establishment of the global business continuity and disaster recovery capability, based on the objectives of:  the ability of the principal organs to conduct crucial meetings; the ability to maintain information and communication technology services; ensuring continuity of key financial transactions; and sustaining communications with the staff and the permanent missions.

    According to the note, the study indicated the possibility of meeting the operational objectives by building upon the existing information and communication technology infrastructure of the Secretariat.  However, further analysis of possible "value-engineering" alternatives to identify potential cost-saving measures would be required.  The finalization of the project scope, its timetable and cost-estimates would be undertaken largely from within existing resources approved for the current biennium, under section 28 D, Office of Central Support Services, including possible external specialized expertise, estimated in the amount of $250,000.  The Secretary-General, therefore, proposes that he submit his comprehensive report to the Assembly at its sixty-first session.

    In a related report (document A/60/7/Add.33), the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) notes that future information technology-related reports should be mindful of Organization-wide efforts to present information, regardless of the subject matter, in a clear, concise and reader-friendly manner.  The Advisory Committee urges the Secretariat to actively seek out further lessons learned from elsewhere, both inside and outside the United Nations system, such as in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which has conducted a study in that area.

    The Advisory Committee also notes that the resource requirements in connection with the study, in the amount of $250,000, will be accommodated from within the overall resources approved for the biennium 2006-2007, under section 28 D, Office of Central support Services, and reported, as necessary, in the context of the performance report for the biennium.  The Committee expects that a comprehensive report will be submitted no later than September 2007, taking into account the Capital Master Plan.

    The Committee also had before it a report of the Secretary-General on strengthened and unified security management system of the United Nations: standardized access control (document A/60/695); an interim report outlining the proposed scope, concept and revised course of action for standardized access control at all main locations of the Organization.

    According to the report, the Secretary-General has proposed for implementation, a number of projects to strengthen security and safety at United Nations facilities at Headquarters and other main locations, including a proposal for a global access control system, aiming at ensuring full perimeter security through an integrated and coordinated approach.  By its resolution 59/276 (section XI, paragraph 44), the Assembly decided to defer, until the second part of its resumed fifty-ninth session, consideration of the specific project pending receipt of a detailed report.  In its resolution 59/294, the Assembly took note of that report (document A/59/776) and endorsed the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) that a comprehensive report be reviewed by the Assembly during its sixtieth session.

    The report notes that the aim of the standardized access control project is to ensure an appropriate level of physical security.  Implementation of physical security measures is a shared responsibility of the Department of Safety and Security, the Department of Management and administrative services at each main location.  The proposed project does not include the Secretariat complex at Headquarters, the requirements for which have been fully addressed through projects approved by Assembly resolution 56/286, and being implemented by the Capital Master Plan office. 

    During 2005, the Department of Safety and Security undertook a comprehensive assessment of the security posture at each of the eight main locations of the Secretariat, and at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the report states.  Experts of the Department noted that substantial security improvements had been implemented and that no redundant or overly designed projects had been identified.  They proposed that the various sets of minimum operating security standards currently in use be consolidated by the Department into a single set of operational instructions, while adding flexibility by setting out mandatory, as well as advisory, requirements.  They also identified a number of specific additional requirements that should be addressed without delay.

    The Secretary-General proposes a two-phased approach for implementation of the standardized global access control system.  In the first phase, during 2006, measures will be taken to rectify identified shortcomings and gaps in physical security at all main locations.  The related estimated requirements, in the amount of $23.68 million, is proposed to be met through temporarily setting new priorities for projects approved for the current biennium under section 32, Construction, Alteration, Improvement and Major Maintenance, of the programme budget and in budgets of the International Tribunals.

    Also during 2006, the Secretariat will prepare a detailed plan for implementation of the second phase of the project.  That detailed plan and estimated resource requirements for project implementation, including the replacement funding component with respect to measures to be implemented in 2006 in the context of the first phase of the project, will be submitted to the Assembly at the main part of its sixty-first session.  The Assembly is requested to approve the proposed course of action.

    In a related report (document A/60/7/Add.35) the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) states that it has no objection to the two-phase approach proposed by the Secretary-General, and that it intends to submit comprehensive recommendations on access control when the Secretary-General submits the project proposals to the sixty-first session.  Regarding meeting the estimated $23.68 million requirements for the first phase, through temporarily setting new priorities in the current biennium budget, the Committee points out that such resources would have to be requested separately by the Secretary-General, and are subject to the normal review and approval process of the Assembly.

    In its report, the Advisory Committee also notes that the detailed plan and estimated resource requirements will be submitted to the sixty-first Assembly session.  The Committee was informed that any proposals contained in the detailed plan, if approved by the Assembly, would be implemented starting in January 2007.  The Committee expects the detailed plan to be submitted not later than September 2006, subject to decisions the Assembly might take regarding the renovations strategy under the Capital Master Plan.

    Introduction of Reports

    DAVID VENESS, Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, introducing the Secretary-General's report on a strengthened and unified security management system for the United Nations standardized access control (document A/60/695), said that, following the tragic events of 11 September 2001, there had been three major waves of strengthening the safety and security of the premises.  A number of measures had been approved in 2002.  After the bombing of the headquarters in Baghdad, in August 2003, a number of urgent short-term measures had been presented.  Another tranche of longer-term measures had been approved in 2004.  In April 2005, after having assumed his duties, the Assembly had endorsed his view on the need for a stronger coordination mechanism, in light of the magnitude, the cost and the complexity of the project, as well as his recommendation to establish an Access Control Project Team.

    He said the experts had identified four main areas which needed immediate strengthening: perimeter security, closed circuit TV (CCTV), vehicle and pedestrian access points and security of control rooms.  The objective was to enhance security, as quickly as possible, to address "must haves", in advance of "should haves", for the offices away from Headquarters in Nairobi, Geneva and Vienna; for the regional commissions in Santiago, Addis Ababa, Bangkok and Beirut; for the International Tribunals in The Hague and Arusha; and for the Annex buildings in New York. 

    A two-phased approach was proposed, he said.  In the first phase, measures would be taken to rectify identified shortcomings, with estimated requirements of some $23 million to be met through the temporary "reprioritization" of approved projects.  At the same time, a detailed plan would be developed for the implementation of the second phase, designed to address location specific vulnerabilities.  It was important to note that all proposed recommendations only enhanced and strengthened what had already been accomplished.  In light of the still maturing technology for access control systems, he would continue to work with the Department of Management to assure that compatible, cost-effective and adequate measures would be implemented.  In order to strengthen interdepartmental coordination, a steering group had been established to supervise and lead the existing project team.

    He said the global access control project was understood by some to consist of ambitious attempts to link access at all main Secretariat locations worldwide to a central database, using a single identification card issued from New York Headquarters.  That was not the case.  The report made clear that the true aim of the project was to reduce critical location specific security vulnerabilities.  The proposed measures were to ensure that access to the premises, and within, were controlled, in order to provide for a safe and secure workplace and environment for United Nations staff.

    KATRINA NOWLAN, Chief of the Common Support Services, Office of the Programme Planning and Budget Division, introduced the note on information and communication technology security, business continuity and disaster recovery (document A/60/677).

    The Chairman of the ACABQ, RAJAT SAHA, introduced two related reports of that body (documents A/60/7/Add.35 and Add.33).

    Statements

    Speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, ENNO DROFENIK (Austria) noted that things had moved forward since the Committee's discussion of Mr. Veness' interim progress report last year.  The Committee would now focus on the newest issue of the standardized access control, as the other report was gradually overtaken by the further development of the Department of Safety and Security.  The main message for the immediate future was that all duty stations should be brought to the same baseline security level.  The proposed action in Phase I dealt with that.  Those that requested most attention at this stage were Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Santiago.  It was necessary to act swiftly on that request, enabling a speedy and equal secured environment for all staff.

    The project proposal of standardized access further elaborated on the legitimate concerns of privacy, while ensuring access without delays, he continued.  The Committee had also learned that a well-defined repartition of tasks, management and accountability would guide that completion project.

    Regarding the proposed Phase II, the Union could agree to a study phase, but did not want to commit itself to a globally integrated project at this stage, he said.  In that regard, he took note of the fact that a decision was only requested at the next session.

    He added that the Union had not forgotten its request for better cooperation by all non-Secretariat parties in the High-Level Committee for Management (HLCM), for sensitive issues like cost-sharing or the Malicious Act Insurance.  He reiterated the necessity of having representatives on board for a common debate in that regard.

    KAREN LOCK (South Africa), speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said the staff of the United Nations was an invaluable asset, and every effort should be made to ensure their safety.  The group noted that the report on standardized access control fell "well short" of addressing the request made by the Assembly in its resolution 59/276 and, unfortunately, did not provide sufficient information regarding the various aspects of the project.  The report had stated that a further analysis was required of the potential implications, costs and benefits of aligning locally integrated United Nations security systems with a global network.  In the absence of such an analysis, the Secretariat should elaborate on how the proposals fit in with the project.  It was also not clear how economies of scale in the different locations could be realized in the absence of clarity on the proposed project.

    She said the Assembly had assigned primary responsibility for safety and security to the Department of Safety and Security.  However, the report made references to the role of the Department of Management.  That aspect should be clarified.  Additional resources were sought for a "baseline security level", which appeared to be constantly shifting, without clearly making allowance for individual characteristics of each location, or the investment already made.  She required an elaboration and further justification of the resource requirements being sought, including a breakdown of the project on a site-by-site basis.  It would also be important to get an indication as to how the results of the assessment of the infrastructure of the main locations were reflected in the proposal.

    It was not clear from the report if the global identity management system should proceed or not, she said, and the Secretariat should further clarify.  It would also be appreciated if the Secretariat could elaborate on the reasoning for stating that the same level of human resources would be maintained, once the proposed global access control system had been implemented.  Also, a further elaboration on whether or not the turnstiles project was compatible with the proposed global access system was necessary.  She also asked the Secretariat to expand on the "concept, scope and revised course of action" that would require the approval of the Assembly.  She was concerned, in the absence of a comprehensive report, that the Assembly had not yet been able to approve the design of the project.  The Secretariat should not deal with issues pertaining to safety and security of staff in a piecemeal approach, or without the overall guidance of, and management by, the Department of Safety and Security.

    She said the Group was concerned that there had not been adequate adherence to the provision of resolution 59/276, regarding the recruitment to professional posts in the Department on a wide geographic basis.  The time had come for the Assembly to take the necessary action to remedy the situation in the temporary and permanent professional posts at Headquarters.  With respect to other categories of posts, she reiterated the need to maintain the international character of the Organization.  There were indications that those stipulations of the resolutions had not been followed.

    YASSER ELNAGGAR (Egypt) expressed full support for the statement by South Africa on behalf of the Group of 77, and said that he had a sense that the Committee faced a problem, partly because all the criticism expressed by the Assembly did not echo within the Secretariat.  When the Fifth Committee agreed to a draft resolution by consensus and that text was later totally disregarded in the report, it was necessary to reflect on the time, effort and resources wasted in the context of the Committee and by the delegations represented there, when they came to discuss the same issue for the third time.  Unless it was the beginning of so called reform, and the members of the Committee were merely to take strategic decisions and leave management-type administration to the Secretariat -- in that case, it should be agreed that, from now on, the Committee should not actually make requests to the Secretariat.

    Regarding the report, he said that, now, he was more confused than ever, over the whole issue.  Was it a global access control system or a standardized access control system?  As for the concerns expressed in resolution 59/276, which had taken a long time to achieve, just one paragraph of the report responded to the Assembly's request for detailed information.  At this point, no matter what responses were provided by the Secretariat, it would take a long time to deal with the matter.  When the Assembly requested a detailed report on the impact of the implementation of a global access system on human resources requirements in the area of safety and security, for example, and the report merely said that it would eliminate human error, that indicated a serious lack of communication between the Assembly and the Secretariat.  He did not see how it was possible to reach a decision on the issues involved, on the basis of that document.

    Collectively, Member States had established the Department of Safety and Security for one reason, and one reason only, to provide leadership, guidance and coherent management of safety and security.  According to the report, however, currently, many people were doing many things related to safety and security.  In addition to the Department of Safety and Security, the infrastructure contained other bodies, including the Department of Management and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, but a very detailed, thorough resolution on the matter had established the Department of Safety and Security to take over.  While supporting the Department and its head, he did not see how the Committee could even take note of the report, let alone take a decision on it.  The resolution would have only one paragraph reiterating the request contained in paragraph 44 of resolution 59/276.  Many details of that paragraph had an important impact on the issues involved.  Safety and security of the United Nations and its staff were not a matter of pouring resources into it -- a clear vision was needed.  He hoped that, in May, a comprehensive detailed report on the issue would be coming.  He could not accept a proposal, under which a detailed report would be issued during the sixty-first session, because now it was not clear what was being implemented.

    FERNANDO DE OLIVEIRA SENA (Brazil) said his delegation attached great importance to ensuring safety and security of staff, operations and premises of the United Nations, more so, as his country was still grieved for some nationals who had died during the bombing of United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, in 2003.  He also expressed concern at the recruitment for professional posts, as he believed strongly in geographical distribution of posts.  He, therefore, asked for detailed responses to the questions posed by the Group of 77 and China.

    Addressing delegates' concerns, Mr. VENNES, Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, said that, in order to do justice to the range of detailed questions and to provide detailed responses, more detailed work had to be undertaken.  He would, therefore, return to those questions in due course. 

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