The Dick Thornburgh Papers

The collection

Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (1992–1993)

Extent: 24 linear feet

Having resigned as attorney general of the United States to run, unsuccessfully, for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the tragic death of Senator John Heinz, Thornburgh was again at a career turning point. He had rejoined Kirkpatrick and Lockhart, his law firm over the years, but was surprised once again by a call from President Bush, on 9:30 Monday morning, February 3, 1992. The President said, “We need some help at the United Nations ... and [Thornburgh], as a longtime supporter of the U.N., knew immediately that this was yet another ‘offer [he] couldn’t refuse’” (Evidence, p. 316).

Thornburgh became under-secretary-general for administration at the United Nations, and agreed to stay for a year, as a point person on reform. The organization was seen as mismanaged, resistant to reform and change, and the prognosis for it was not very optimistic. The Washington Post reported that “U.N. sources say that if Thornburgh takes the job, [Secretary-General] Boutros-Ghali will gain three big advantages. He will have the weight of the world’s only remaining superpower directly behind the reform effort; he will be giving the United States a chance to show that ideas about reform are workable; and he will have a deputy who stands a better chance than anyone else at the United Nations of making the United States pay its arrears” (Evidence, p. 318).

A year later, on Friday, February 26, Thornburgh’s last day on the job, his detailed report was delivered to the secretary-general. Outside of the U.N. what became known as the Thornburgh Report was generally well received, and his efforts did not go unnoticed. The National Journal’s assessment two years after his departure from the U.N. stated: “The impetus for administrative and fiscal reforms at the United Nations can be credited in large part to intense prodding during the Reagan and Bush administrations. Many of today’s cost-cutting stratagems, including the creation of a quasi-inspector general’s post to ferret out fraud and waste, stem from a management review conducted by President Bush’s Attorney General Dick Thornburgh” (Evidence, p. 332).

As Thornburgh reflected: “At the end of February 1993, I left New York and headed back to Washington, my twenty-five year career in public office at an end. I looked forward to resuming life under one roof with my beloved Ginny. And after over two decades of the pressure cooker environment of public responsibility, I was ready for a transition to the role of ‘useful citizen’” (Evidence, p. 334). His extensive, and very useful, continuing activities are well represented in the collection section titled “Ongoing Career.”

Included here are numerous documents about the United Nations, its budget processes, peacekeeping efforts, administrative organization, and economic and social development programs. Thornburgh made four trips abroad in the course of carrying out his responsibilities, and each is well documented here. Of particular note is the trip to Rome, Italy, to the Vatican Conference on Religion and Disability, in 1992. Regarding Thornburgh’s final report, there are drafts and background material for all issues, as well as the final report itself. Having spent the year identifying what was wrong with the U.N., the report outlined some ways to fix the problems, such as restructuring and redeployment, cutting waste in publications, a moratorium on costly worldwide conferences, personnel changes, more attention to peacekeeping budgets, a 24-hour communications center and funding of an outside management study. “The final section of the report focused on fraud, waste, and abuse ... urged the creation of a new Office of Inspector General and changes to accounting systems ... to compel full financial disclosure by senior management ... and expedited treatment of allegations of wrongdoing” (Evidence, p. 331).

The files are presented in the following nine sections: "Speeches"; "Under-Secretary-General Thornburgh’s Files"; "Memoranda and Correspondence"; "Financial Restructuring and Peacekeeping"; "Events and Schedules"; "Foreign Trips"; "News Clippings"; "Country Files"; "Ongoing U.N. Materials, 1993–2000."


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