The Bush administration said yesterday that it was searching for a successor to World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn, after Wolfensohn officially informed the bank's board and the U.S. Treasury that he will leave the post when his term expires in June.
Wolfensohn told Treasury Secretary John W. Snow that he will step down after a decade at the bank's helm, according to a Treasury spokesman. And in a letter that was circulated yesterday to World Bank staff members, Wolfensohn definitively stated his intentions, saying, "I would not wish to be considered for a third [five-year] term."
"Jim Wolfensohn has been an outstanding leader of the World Bank," Snow said in a statement yesterday evening. "I look forward to working with him over the next six months as he continues to lead the Bank. His counsel will be invaluable as we go through the transition process."
Rob Nichols, the assistant treasury secretary for public affairs, told reporters, "We're just now beginning discussions with the other shareholders on the process of finding a successor."
Wolfensohn, who was initially selected by President Bill Clinton in 1995 and reappointed in 2000, has made little secret of his desire to stay on, according to bank staffers who have discussed the matter with him. He has been eager to consolidate a legacy of making the bank more intensely focused on alleviating poverty in the developing world, rather than the bank's traditional financing of large infrastructure projects. The bank lends about $20 billion a year.
But the reelection of President Bush virtually doomed his chances. The Bush team generally concurs with critics who view Wolfensohn's management style as erratic and often wasteful of bank resources. The administration has also clashed with him publicly over a number of issues, including the bank's effectiveness at providing aid to developing nations.
On ABC's "This Week" Sunday, Wolfensohn publicly acknowledged that he stood little chance of winning the administration's backing, saying, "My understanding and my belief is that probably during the course of this year I'll give over to someone else."
The administration has effective control over the naming of Wolfensohn's successor because the United States, as the bank's largest shareholder nation, traditionally chooses an American for the post, while Europeans get to pick one of their own for the head of the International Monetary Fund.
But Nichols confirmed that the administration intends to conduct an "open, candid and transparent" selection process, suggesting that Washington will consult with other member nations and at least try to avoid the appearance of forcing its choice on them.
Speculation earlier this year that outgoing Secretary of State Colin L. Powell might be tapped has faded since Powell stated flatly after his resignation that he is not interested. U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick is regarded by some administration insiders as the front-runner. But other possible choices include John B. Taylor, the undersecretary of the treasury for international affairs; Randall L. Tobias, the administration's global AIDS coordinator; Christine Todd Whitman, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and Carla A. Hills, a former U.S. trade representative.
In his letter, which was addressed to Yahya M. Alyahya, a Saudi Arabian who is the senior member of the bank's 24-person board, Wolfensohn said he will be "forever grateful for the opportunity [to head the bank] and could not imagine working with a finer group of colleagues or on a more important cause."