UNESCO Membership: Issues for Congress

On October 1, 2003, the United States returned to full membership in UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. President Bush had announced the U.S. return a year earlier during his speech before the U.N. General Assembly. The Administration requested $71.429 million for FY2004 for the U.S. return to UNESCO. This amount included funds for the last 3-months of calendar year 2003, full funding for calendar year 2004, and a one-time payment to the UNESCO Working Capital Fund of $5.5 million. The U.S. share of the UNESCO budget is 22% (the largest of any member country). U.S. contributions to UNESCO are provided by Congress in the authorization and appropriation acts for the State Department in the Contributions to International Organizations (CIO) account. The United States was one of the original members of UNESCO, which was created in 1946, and withdrew from the agency in 1984. The reasons given at the time of withdrawal were that the agency was highly politicized, exhibited hostility toward the basic institutions of a free society, especially a free market and a free press, and demonstrated unrestrained budgetary expansion and poor management under then Director General Amadou-Mahter M'Bow of Senegal. UNESCO has had two Director Generals since the U.S. withdrawal, but very little national attention has been paid to the agency. In November 1995, President Clinton wrote to UNESCO Director General Frederico Mayor of Spain that the United States recognized that UNESCO had made major progress in addressing the issues that led to U.S. withdrawal, but that budget realities precluded the United States from rejoining at the time. On January 16, 2001, President Clinton urged the incoming Bush Administration to rejoin the organization. While rejoining is an executive decision, the congressional role in authorizing and appropriating funds for U.S. dues gives Congress an important role. This report discusses briefly the actions taken since the U.S. withdrawal and provides background on the debate over withdrawal in the 1983-84 period and issues involved in the recent debate over rejoining. It will be updated as developments warrant.