Sunday, June 03, 2007

Editorial on the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO

The Americans for UNESCO website is currently featuring a highlight on the United States National Commission for UNESCO. The National Commission is unusual in that it has specific authorizing legislation, and that legislation specifically identifies the National Commission as created in fulfillment of Article VII of the Constitution of UNESCO. That article states:
Article VII

National Co-operating Bodies

1. Each Member State shall make such arrangements as suit its particular conditions for the purpose of associating its principal bodies interested in educational, scientific and cultural matters with the work of the Organization, preferably by the formation of a National Commission broadly representative of the Government and such bodies.

2. National Commissions or National Co-operating Bodies, where they exist, shall act in an advisory capacity to their respective delegations to the General Conference and to their Governments in matters relating to the Organization and shall function as agencies of liaison in all matters of interest to it.

3. The Organization may, on the request of a Member State, delegate, either temporarily or permanently, a member of its Secretariat to serve on the National Commission of that State, in order to assist in the development of its work.
Thus the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO is specifically authorized by statute to associate U.S. educational, scientific and cultural organizations with the work of UNESCO, as well as to advise the government (and the delegations to the general conference).

As an advisory body to the government, the National Commission also is controlled by the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Thus it must have a balanced membership with suitable expertise to offer sound advice and it must hold open meetings and act in a transparent manner. FACA also requires agencies to report regularly on their advisory committees, and to revise the charters of those committees regularly. (The next revision of the charter of the National Commission for UNESCO is scheduled for 2008.) The law allows for advisory committees to be authorized by Presidential directive, even in the absence of specific legislative charter, to be utilized for other functions in addition to their advisory purposes.

The Congress has become concerned with the administration of advisory committees under the Bush Administration, and requested that the General Accounting Office study the situation. A report from the GAO in 2004 stated:
Additional governmentwide guidance could help agencies better ensure the independence of federal advisory committee members and the balance of federal advisory committees. For example, OGE guidance to federal agencies has shortcomings and does not adequately ensure that agencies appoint individuals selected to provide advice on behalf of the government as special government employees subject to conflict-of-interest regulations. In addition, GSA guidance to federal agencies and agency specific policies and procedures could be improved to better ensure that agencies collect and evaluate information that could be helpful in determining the viewpoints of potential committee members regarding the subject matters being considered and in ensuring that committees are, and are perceived as being, balanced.
Members of the House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology have become specifically concerned about the quality of scientific advisory committees under the Bush administration as has Rep. Henry Waxman, Ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Government Reform. Thus the balance and objectivity of the U.S. National Commission on UNESCO is subject also to oversight by the legislature.

UNESCO, of course, convenes many international committees to advise on matters of science, including oceanography, geology, hydrology, biosciences, scientific ethics, and aspects of the social sciences. While UNESCO itself is responsible to appoint the members of those committees, and to assure the objectivity and balance of the membership, the UNESCO secretariat often seeks help in identifying candidates from the United States for such committees from the U.S. permanent delegation to UNESCO and indirectly from the National Commission. Thus we must be concerned not only with the balance and objectivity in international advisory committees not only as achieved by UNESCO, but in the recommendations made by our representatives to the UNESCO secretariat for U.S. members on those committees.

With the reentry of the United States into UNESCO, 60 Non-Governmental organizations were selected by the Department of State, each to "designate one representative for appointment to the National Commission." The law chartering the National Commission states that:
the National Commission shall periodically review and, if deemed advisable, revise the list of such organizations designating representatives in order to achieve a desirable rotation among organizations represented.
There have been three meetings of the Commission and the law states that Commissioners are to serve three year terms, so it may be an appropriate time for the National Commission to consider rotation among the NGO's designating representatives to it.

John A. Daly

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