Entering his second year as president of the World Bank, A. W. (Tom) Clausen gets high marks from most of those attending the annual international financial meetings here for carrVing on the fight against poverty in the best Robert S. McNamara tradition.

McNamara for the prior dozen years was popular with the poor member-nations of the World Bank which viewed him as more empathetic with their problems than any First World figure. On the other hand, many First Worlders privately regarded him as a sort of bleeding heart.

And, indeed, McNamara was noted for his commitment to the poor countries and for his deeply emotional annual speeches to these meetings.

Clausen seems to combine just as strong a sense of obligation to his task with the more detached perspective of a commercial banker. "If we have an ideology," he told me, "it's 'pragmatic economics.'"

What he means is that borrowing governments "have to know that when we see it's do-able or not do-able, we are not swayed by politics. "While he shuns comparisons between his approach and McNamara's, he had set about to streamline the bank, to make it more efficient.

At the start, there was a good deal of suspicion about Clausen. World Bank bureaucrats who had to work for him feared that he knew little about poor countries.

The developing countries were sure that a man from the Bank of America would forget that he was running a development agency and would turn it instead into a commercial bank. The U.S. Treasury thought that he really was too liberal. There were some Reaganauts who would have preferred someone more clearly on the right wing and safer -- say, someone like the hard-nosed William E. Simon.

Most of those concerns have dissipated. Clausen has been learning about development problems, has not turned the institution into Bank of America East, but nonetheless has moved it toward more cooperative ventures with the private sector.

Yet he is sensitive to the concerns of Third World countries that the private projects should be in addition to, not a substitute for, regular bank programs.

He has also attempted to present a more human side of the bank and its officials to the press and public. It is still an unwieldy and sometimes clumsy bureaucracy, but Clausen and his principal aides readily give interviews to reporters and are responding civilly to questions.

For the moment, Clausen's main problem is to try to keep alive the bank's soft-loan agency, the International Development Association. That's a tough job, in view of what he calls the U.S. effort to perform an "amputation" of IDA's services.

For the poorest of the poor nations, IDA is the major source of subsidized aid money. IDA advances money at no interest, with only three-quarters of one percent as a service charge over a 50-year term.

The tight-fisted Reaganauts, horrified by what they considered to be nothing more than a welfare program, at first attempted to scrap American contributions to this 20-year-old program. But pressured by former secretary of state Alexander M. Haig Jr., and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who understood that much of the IDA money comes back to the United States, the administration relented.

But the money has been dribbled out in such a way as to leave the United States 40 percent behind its original schedule of contributions. And since other nations are entitled to drop their contributions proportionally, poor nations have been getting much reduced sums at a time when they need money most. Last year, instead of getting a projected total of $4.2 billion, they received $2.7 billion.

To Clausen's credit, one of the ways he confronted the problem was to commission an analysis of IDA's record over the 20-year period -- a frank and honest one that, he says, "deals with some of the glitches and horrible mistakes" that IDA made. Few organizations have reviewed their own history and then published case histories of failures.

For example, in 1970, IDA signed an agreement for a $5 million credit to irrigate 12,000 hectares (about 30,000 acres) in Madagascar. Within 10 years, an enthusiastic IDA team said, rice output would be doubled. But after five years, production had gone up only a little, inequities had grown, and social tensions were on the rise. In short, the program had failed.

But the World Bank makes its point well: the failures are the exception, and overall, IDA has been a great success. Given American reluctance to put up a full share of its money, Clausen knows that in the years ahead the shape of the IDA program will have to change.

It no longer will be possible to lend at no interest over such a long term. Recipient countries will have to pay some interest, but the terms still will represent a substantial subsidy compared with commercial market rates.