The General Accounting Office called yesterday for the appointment of a United Nations auditor general to improve auditing and financial management at the U.N. and its related organizations.

"The United Nations should inform its contributors and its beneficiaries about how effectively the monies provided are being used. To do this, the U.N. should be in the forefront of auditing practices. It is not," the GAO, the audit arm of Congress, said in a report made public yesterday.

The idea for a U.N. auditor general originated with a consultant's report prepared for one of the three members of the U.N.'s board of auditors. The board is responsible for U.N. auditing, the GAO said.

The U.N. board has been critical of nearly every facet of U.N. financial operations. Among other things, it has noted deficiencies in the way the organization handles its excess cash and keeps track of bills, checks, contributions, contracts, and other financial items.

In its report, the GAO said the U.N. board has improved its auditing procedures in recent years but said there is no assurance this will continue, since board members serve for specific periods and then are replaced.

An auditor general would hire a professional staff to ensure continuity, the GAO said. He or she would report to the board of auditors, which would continue to function as an overseer, the GAO said.

"Rapidly increasing budgets of the U.N. system -- the U.N., its specialized agencies, and the International Atomic Energy Agency -- have increased the need for greatly improved financial management," the GAO said. Since 1967, the budget for the U.N. system organizations has risen from $642 million to more than $2.4 billion, the GAO said. Of this figure, the U.S. contributes $600 million.

"Improved financial management will increase efficiency and economy in U.N. operations at all levels and will permit a greater portion of the available funds to be applied directly to programs," the report said.

The report said the State Department, in response to the GAO's recommendations, has agreed to press for appointment of a U.N. auditor general.