Since its inception in 1966, the United Nations Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) has prevailed in the face of significant existential challenges. Against this backdrop, we investigate how and why the JIU persisted over time. Combining delegation and historical institutionalist approaches, we posit that entrepreneurial agents and layering processes together help us better understand persistence of international organizations. Based on semi-structured interviews with UN staff and JIU inspectors, we examine three critical junctures in the history of the JIU. Our results show that entrepreneurial agents and stakeholders in the JIU managed to avoid the closure or demotion of the JIU by engaging in a strategy of institutional layering. Our analysis, however, also demonstrates that the JIU survived at the price of losing its privilege as the central UN oversight body. These findings have implications for the study of international organizations and for the reform of the UN system at large.
- The institutional history of the JIU documents the importance of selecting personnel for key positions based on qualification. When determining the future of composition of the JIU and similar organizations within the UN system, member states should place due emphasis on the qualifications of individuals as a criterion of equal importance to geographical distribution.
- During the early stages following its inception, the JIU did not possess clear standards of assessment. These improved over time, also through the initiatives of entrepreneurial agents within the Unit. By way of a general recommendation, UN oversight agencies should strive to establish robust and transparent mechanisms for assessing the performance of UN organizations and programs.
- In order to focus scarce financial and human resources within the UN system, member states’ representatives should consider reducing or merging the number of oversight institutions within the UN system.
- Alternatively, the existing UN oversight institutions could further develop specializations and a clear division of labor between them to help reduce the existing complexity and dysfunctionality of the UN system.
- UN member states should adopt standard accountability mechanisms for all UN agencies to counteract the myriad of existing overlapping committees and units within single institutions.