Review of Air Travel Policies in the United Nations System: Achieving Efficiency Gains and Cost Savings and Enhancing Harmonization (JIU/REP/2017/3)

The Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) has recently issued a report on air travel policies in the United Nations System that reviewed and assessed relevant air travel regulations, policies and practices and examined their implementation across the United Nations system organizations. The report was undertaken following calls from the General Assembly to improve the management of air travel and the effective and efficient use of air travel resources, as a matter of urgency. The report aims to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of travel management among JIU participating organizations, increase accountability and transparency for managers who approve travel, increase coordination and cooperation among United Nations system organizations and promote harmonization of procedures and processes, where appropriate, by identifying good practices and lessons learned. The United Nations system is one of the largest consumers of air travel services among international organizations, due to the global presence of its offices and programmes. Travel expenditure is, not unexpectedly, one of the largest budget components, after staff costs and has increased over the past decade, despite efforts to reduce costs and make more use of technology tools such as video conferencing. On the basis of data provided by 24 United Nations system organizations, the overall expenditure on air travel and travel-related expenses totaled approximately $4 billion for the four-year period from 2012 to 2015. This figure does not include travel expenditure incurred by peacekeeping operations, political missions and the organizations that did not respond to the JIU’s request for information. In a period of increasing austerity, there is a clear justification for carefully assessing air travel regulations, rules and policies. Reviewing the standards of accommodation that each entity is currently applying for air travel, for example, provides a basis for determining whether and how greater cost effectiveness and efficiency can be achieved through changes in policy and practices that are being successfully applied in some other organizations. The report contains nine formal recommendations. Three of which are addressed to the executive heads and six to the legislative body of the participating organization, including the General Assembly. These recommendations include elimination of first-class travel, increasing the investment in communications technology as an alternative to travel, enhancing accountability in the management of air travel, strengthening the planning, monitoring and budget oversight for air travel and other practical measures to reduce the expenditure on air travel.