Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Programme Delivery and Administrative Support

Executive Committee Meetings

Programme Delivery and Administrative Support

08 September 1997



1. At its forty-seventh session (7 to 11 October 1996), the Executive Committee noted the observation of the ACABQ that the combined total of Programme Delivery (PD) costs and Administrative Support (AS) costs in the period 1993 to 1996 had increased considerably, even though resources had declined (see Table in Annex 1; note that the table covers the period 1994 to 1996. The categorization PD/AS was introduced in 1994). The Executive Committee called for a report on this issue; in particular it raised the possibility of these categories of costs being defined more precisely and in a standardized manner. The Executive Committee also asked that in relation to the 1996 and 1997 budgets, these categories be illustrated (A/AC.96/878, paragraph 25 (f)). The ACABQ also expressed the hope that the various reviews being undertaken to streamline the operational aspects of UNHCR's activities would address the issue (A/AC.96/865/Add.4, paragraph 8).

2. Any review of these categories of costs must take into account, inter alia, work currently in progress within UNHCR on a new Operations Management System (OMS) which includes an integrated budget and finance system as part of the change management process called Project Delphi. In developing its new integrated budget and finance system, the work of UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA in harmonizing their budget structures is being taken into account. Their proposal (see document DP/1997/2 and E/ICEF/1997/AB/L.3 and Addenda 1 of 18 November 1996), with a common format for presentation, and related common terms and definitions, is particularly relevant to the issue at hand. Among the common terms and definitions of particular relevance to UNHCR's review of its own definitions of Administrative Support and Programme Delivery, are the agreed definitions of UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA on "Management and Administration of Organization", "Programme Support" and "Programme" (see paragraph 14 below).

3. UNHCR, in presenting this paper, will confine itself to an explanation of the current Administrative Support and Programme Delivery categories and their level of costs, and will illustrate their application in budgetary tables. It will make some preliminary observations on the implications should UNHCR adopt definitions similar to those agreed by UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA referred to above.


4. In 1990, UNHCR first proposed a review of its distribution of posts under the then existing categories of Programme Support and Administration (PSA) and Project Personnel Expenditure (PPE) based on the functions carried out by each post and the programme to which they belonged (Overview of UNHCR Activities, Report for 1989-1990, A/AC.96/753, paragraph 115). In pursuit of this objective, UNHCR undertook a review of the classification of its activities. The results of this review were summarized in document EC/1992/SC.2/CRP.17; the proposed categories of activities (and related posts) summarized in this conference room paper were as follows:

  • Executive Direction and Management (Executive Posts);
  • Substantive/Statutory Activities (Substantive Posts);
  • Operational Activities (Project Posts);
  • Support Activities (Programme Support and Administration Posts).

5. On 14 April 1993, consultations took place between UNHCR and the ACABQ Secretariat on the above categories. The outcome of these consultations was the proposal that UNHCR drop these four proposed categories and simply focus on two categories, namely Programme Posts (embracing substantive and operational posts) and Programme Support and Administration Posts. It was felt that, given the way that UNHCR had evolved in the past, especially through direct involvement in the provision of material assistance, and given the way in which UNHCR was still evolving, in particular by becoming more operational in response to humanitarian emergencies, the distinction between substantive and operational activities was no longer meaningful. The ACABQ Secretariat suggested that what had been termed "substantive" and "operational" activities be brought under a broader category of "programme" activities. This would reflect the development whereby, over the years, UNHCR's activities had broadened from its original "substantive" activities to include significant direct protection and assistance activities. The ACABQ stressed that its primary interest in the categorization exercise was to see the extent of Programme Support and Administration posts/costs vis-à-vis Programme posts/costs. The outcome of these discussions with the ACABQ Secretariat was presented to the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters (SCAF) at its 19 May 1993 meeting (EC/1993/SC.2/CRP.13).

6. A final summary presentation on the issue was made to the 1 October 1993 meeting of SCAF (EC/1993/SC.2/CRP.25). The Executive Committee approved, in the light of the comments of the ACABQ, the proposed changes in the method of categorizing posts and requested that, as of 1 January 1994, staffing and budgetary tables reflect these changes (A/AC.96/821, paragraph 29 (o)). Thus, as of 1994, UNHCR activities (and related posts, and non-staff costs) were divided into two categories: Programme Delivery and Administrative Support (note the change in the designation of the titles of the types of activities and posts; definitions of the categories, however, remained as agreed). These two types of activities are defined as follows:

(a) Programme Delivery activities cover the broad spectrum of UNHCR activities ranging from the provision of international protection, the promotion or search for durable solutions through to the provision of the different forms of material assistance;

(b) Administrative Support activities are those activities whose function it is to support the "Programme" of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Such support of "programme" activities, in the form of backstopping, is primarily through the provision of common services such as finance, personnel, information systems, telecommunications and general services, and through a range of other activities such as evaluation, administration, and training.

7. Corresponding to these two categories of activities, UNHCR posts, covering international and locally-recruited staff, are divided into Programme Delivery posts and Administrative Support posts. Within each of these two categories of posts, UNHCR distinguishes between established and temporary posts. Annex 2 to this paper reproduces an analysis of UNHCR posts (1996 revised and 1997 initial). (It will be noted that these tables are taken from the document Overview of UNHCR Activities 1995-1997 (A/AC.96/865)). Given the fluid nature of UNHCR's operations, with posts created or discontinued at short-notice, these post tables are presented in work-years. It is felt that this approach gives a more accurate picture of UNHCR's staffing situation. Based on these tables, the following was the situation (in work-years) as at 1 July 1996 for all activities under General and Special Programmes:

Headquarters Field Total

Programme Delivery 368.9 3,966.9 4,335.8

Administrative Support 467.7 587.2 1,055.1

TOTAL 836.6 4,554.1 5,390.9

Of the total number of posts, 84.5 per cent were in the Field and 15.5 per cent in Headquarters. Programme Delivery posts thus represented some 80 per cent of the total number of posts; the remaining 20 per cent were Administrative Support posts. (A fuller breakdown, by Division and Regional Bureau, is found in Annex 3.)


8. Total costs /expenditure related to UNHCR Programmes (both General and Special) are three-fold: operations/programmes (excluding Programme Delivery costs); Programme Delivery costs; and Administrative Support costs. In relation to Programme Delivery costs and Administrative Support costs, there are two components: staff costs and non-staff costs.

9. Staff costs (either for Programme Delivery or for providing Administrative Support) cover salaries and common staff costs such as dependency allowances, education grants, medical examinations, etc. Non-staff costs, again related to Programme Delivery or Administrative Support, are normally grouped under five headings: travel, contractual services, operating expenses, supplies and materials, and "others". The "others" heading covers such things as acquisition of furniture and equipment, including vehicles, contributions to joint United Nations activities, grants and contributions to United Nations agencies, and major alterations to premises. Non-staff costs for both Field and Headquarters locations are allocated on a pro-rata basis (that is, based on the number of work-years dedicated to Programme Delivery and Administrative Support in a given location) between Programme Delivery or Administrative Support.

10. The Tables in Annex 4 provide information on expenditure for Programme Delivery and Administrative Support costs for 1996. (It will be noted that these tables are taken from the document Overview of UNHCR Activities 1996-1998 (A/AC.96/884 ). Total staff costs are indicated for both Programme Delivery and Administrative Support. Expenditure under each of the five types of non-staff costs (or objects of expenditure) are also given for both categories of activities.

11. These total figures for Administrative Support and Programme Delivery are also reflected in the Table given in Annex 1 (1996 expenditure). This Table shows that for the year 1996, Administrative Support amounted to 9.3 per cent of total estimated expenditure under all sources of funds; Programme Delivery costs amounted to 23.5 per cent.


12. In categorizing posts as either Programme Delivery or Administrative Support, the function and location of a particular post is considered. The attached table in Annex 3 gives the distribution of posts (in work-years) across Divisions and Bureaux at Headquarters, and in the Field. It will be noted that posts in the Regional Bureaux and the Division of International Protection are predominantly Programme Delivery posts, while posts in the Division of the Controller and the Division of Human Resources Management are exclusively Administrative Support. Other Divisions (Programme and Operational Support, and External Relations) show a mix of Programme Delivery and Administrative Support posts. In the Executive Office, there are also Administrative Support Posts, including those of the High Commissioner and the Deputy High Commissioner. It might be noted that these two posts, as well as 232 other posts at Headquarters, are the only ones funded under the United Nations Regular Budget. It will be recalled that in accordance with Article 20 of the Statute of UNHCR, no expenditure other than administrative expenditures relating to the functioning of the Office is borne by the budget of the United Nations (all other expenditures relating to the activities of UNHCR are financed by voluntary contributions). While the Statute does not define what is meant by administrative expenditures, the term, based on a definition offered by the ACABQ in a report submitted to the General Assembly at its seventh session (see A/2157, part III) has been interpreted to mean expenses other than operational expenses and the related management costs.

13. As regards the Field, the bulk of posts are categorized as Programme Delivery posts, but again, reflecting on the analysis of the functions of posts, some 15 per cent have been classified as Administrative Support posts.


14. As mentioned above, UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA, in their efforts to harmonize budget structures, agreed on a number of key concepts and definitions; three of these relate to "Management and Administration of Organization", "Programme Support" and "Programme". These terms have been defined as follows (see document DP/1997/2 and E/ICEF/1997/AB/L.3, pages 41,42):

"Management and Administration of Organization: Organizational units whose primary function is the maintenance of the identity, direction and well-being of an organization. This will typically include units that carry our the function of executive direction, organizational policy and evaluation, external relations, information and administration;

Programme Support: Organizational units whose primary function is the development, formulation, delivery and evaluation of an organization's programmes. This will typically include units that provide backstopping of programmes either on a technical, thematic, geographic, logistical or administrative basis;

Programme: Direct inputs needed to achieve the objectives of a specific project or programme for development cooperation. This may typically include experts, support personnel, supplies and equipment, subcontracts, cash assistance and individual or group training."

These three definitions would be particularly relevant to any review of UNHCR's definitions for its categories of activities and posts. It is important to note at this juncture that the definitions used by UNHCR to categorize its posts, namely Programme Delivery and Administrative Support, are significantly different from the definitions, and their related applicability, used by UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA. If UNHCR were to adopt similar definitions, UNHCR, like these three agencies, would incur no Management and Administration costs in the Field (current Administrative Support costs would become Programme Support costs). Moreover, the bulk of current field Programme Delivery costs would become Programme costs (with the remainder becoming Programme Support costs). Thus, the percentage of total costs for both Management and Administration, and Programme Support, would become lower than that of both Programme Delivery and Administrative Support, as currently defined.


15. The ACABQ has drawn attention to the fact that the combined total of Programme Delivery and Administrative Support costs in the period 1993 to 1996 had increased considerably, even though total resources had declined.(In the table in Annex I, it should be noted that the new definitions Programme Delivery and Administrative Support were only effective as of 1994). In the period 1994 to 1996 there have been increases under both Administrative Support (1.9 per cent (1994/1995) and 0.1 per cent (1995/1996)) and Programme Delivery (3.4 per cent (1994/1995) and 0.3 per cent (1995/1996)). These increases related to PD/AS costs as a percentage of total expenditures (including PD/AS). Some 75 per cent of Administrative Support and Programme Delivery costs are staff costs.

16. In seeking some explanation for this trend, it should be noted that in these three years there had been an increase in posts (4,574; 5,022; 5,414). It will be recalled that the categories Programme Delivery and Administrative Support cover all of UNHCR posts. Programme Delivery posts include those which other agencies, for example UNICEF, would call Programme posts.

17. That staff costs constitute such a large percentage of PD/AS costs, and the fact that staff costs in themselves (salaries, compensatory packages for difficult/dangerous duty stations) have increased over the last three years, are among the basic reasons for the increases in actual costs in this period. However, in any of these three years, the PD/AS costs as a percentage of total operational costs varied considerably from operation to operation, and from region to region. This also reflected the different types of operational activities (for example, emergency response; voluntary repatriation; capacity-building) which have significant variations in the levels of total operational costs. The PD/AS percentage level was also significantly affected by the failure of an operation to materialize for political and security reasons, as in the Angolan and Liberian repatriations, even though the staff were put in place in the expectation of a large return movement. In some of these volatile situations, offices have also been looted and equipment destroyed, thus contributing also to the particularly high level of Programme Delivery and Administrative Support costs. In the following paragraphs, some of these variants will be explored.

18. The most obvious type of operational activity with high components of PD/AS costs, both staff and non-staff, are emergency operations. As an example, in the Great Lakes region of Africa, the staffing increased substantially in the period under review. At the beginning of 1994, before the emergency occurred, there were 94 posts in the region. Beginning in July 1994, the number of posts increased to approximately 750 by early 1995 and reached some 900 posts in 1996. This staffing trend reflects the Office's efforts to bring an emergency situation under control and to rapidly consolidate its activities. It also reflects the labour intensive nature of monitoring massive returns. Consequently, the trend in PD/AS costs also escalated (1994: $ 21.2 million; 1995: $ 36.9 million; 1996: $45.5 million). The operational expenditure (excluding PD/AS) over this period also reflects the various phases of this emergency, up to the beginnings of massive repatriation movements in late 1996 (1994: $ 219 million; 1995: $ 169 million; 1996: $ 199 million). With the initial large outlays for the emergency operation, PD/AS costs amounted only to 9 per cent. With the consolidation of the operation, and the putting in place of the necessary staff, PD/AS costs rose to 18 per cent of total expenditure. In the new phase of the operation, with the particular staff-intensive demands of the massive returns, the PD/AS costs rose to 19 per cent of total expenditure.

19. One type of UNHCR activity which has undergone considerable change in recent years is that of voluntary repatriation. In the past, the focus was on the actual movement of returnees to their homes. Now the emphasis is on ensuring that repatriation represents a truly durable solution by providing a range of initial re-integration projects, often in the form of quick impact projects (QIPs), and on trying to ensure that such projects are linked, with the assistance of development partners, to longer-term development initiatives. There is also the important, and labour intensive task, of monitoring the protection situation of the returnees. At the height of any return, there are extensive operational projects, such as QIPs being implemented. In the case of Mozambique, these amounted to $ 35.9 million and $ 34.3 million in 1994 and 1995 respectively. Staffing levels were approximately 230 posts in both years. The combined PD/AS costs as a percentage of total outlays for these two years averaged 18 per cent. At the successful completion of the repatriation in mid-1996, when most QIPs had largely been implemented, operational projects amounted to only $ 5.4 million. While staff had been reduced to some 120 at the beginning of 1996, including staff to monitor the integration of the refugees, the combined PD/AS 1996 costs as a percentage of total outlays had risen to 40 per cent. A comparable figure for another current repatriation, namely to Guatemala, shows that the 1996 PD/AS percentage is 36 per cent.

20. Another new type of UNHCR activity in countries of origin is that of capacity-building, especially judicial capacity-building. This activity is being undertaken by UNHCR in a number of regions, including the Americas, Asia, CASWANAME, but especially in Eastern Europe, and countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States. UNHCR aims to assist such countries to put in place the necessary refugee legislation and related institutions. The operational outlays for such work are relatively modest. In Europe in 1996, operational projects amounted to $ 51.3 million. The staff resources required, however, are significant. The consequence is that PD/AS combined costs are high; in the last three years these have averaged 33 per cent.

21. Through a range of initiatives, especially Project Delphi, UNHCR is attempting to make its operations more efficient and cost-effective. UNHCR is also making a concerted effort to downsize Headquarters. With the changing nature of certain of UNHCR's activities, as outlined above, the current trends of escalating PD/AS costs will continue until UNHCR has a better methodology for capturing Programme Support and Administrative Support costs vis-à-vis programme costs. UNHCR feels that the recent exercise undertaken by UNDP, UNFPA and UNICEF is relevant in this regard and will allow for a true cross-agency comparison of support costs.


22. UNHCR is currently reviewing the definitions for Programme Delivery and Administrative Support, taking into consideration the change in trends of UNHCR activities and how these might best be reflected in its new integrated Operations Management System which is being developed. This review will take into account moves by other United Nations agencies to harmonize their budget structures. UNHCR will keep the Standing Committee informed on these developments.

(Note: Tabular Annexes I-IV not included in this online version. See your nearest UN Depository Library.)