Will A. W. (Tom) Clausen be renamed as president of the World Bank when his five-year term is up in mid- 1986? The Reagan administration is grappling with this question but apparently hasn't made up its mind.
An inquiring reporter can get two scenarios: first, that Clausen is sure to depart if the White House can find a logical successor who can give the bank stronger leadership in what may be a new and troublesome phase of the Third World debt crisis.
Former Citicorp chairman Walter Wriston, a good friend of White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan, has been mentioned for the job. So has Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker. And other names are sure to be ginned up by the rumor mills.
According to the second scenario, the White House, although disappointed with former Bank of America chairman Clausen, has not taken an absolute stand against him. Therefore, it won't press for his retirement, and Clausen could fulfill his desire to finish out a couple of years of a second term, and retire when he is 65.
Reagan administration officials feel Clausen's stewardship is uninspired, that he lacks a clear and articulated vision of the Bank's role. They also note that he doesn't have strong support among other nations that would dictate a reappointment -- as was the case in Robert McNamara's reappointment for a second term with the acquiescence of a reluctant President Nixon.
A private expert on development -- a supporter of Clausen when he was first appointed -- told me: "Under Clausen, the Bank has really lost its role as the preeminent spokesman for Third World development."
Administration officials say that Clausen has failed to provide a sense of the new directions in which the Bank should be moving in the 1990s. They feel that Clausen shows up poorly when compared with the more aggressive and dynamic Jacques de Larosiere, managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
Considerable mutual bitterness developed when the United States forced a 25 percent cut in money for the Bank's International Development Association, which gives grants to the poorest of the poor. Clausen publicly fought that retrenchment and lobbied against U.S. penny-pinching.
Clausen is known to consider American sniping at him unfair. He has moved the Bank in many directions advocated by the United States, including more program lending (as distinguished from projects). He has placed greater emphasis on the private sector both in the Bank and through its International Finance Corporation subsidiary. And he has lately softened his demand for a General Capital Increase for the Bank which the Reagan administration feels it cannot bring to a deficit-conscious Congress at this time.
A friendly Bank source adds: "From the perspective of Tom Clausen, the Bank is doing okay. He thinks that if he left the Bank tomorrow, he'd be able to look at four years of very considerable innovation and change. . . . We acknowledge that as the IMF's programs start to bite, we should take over the role of helping to move those countries onto a growth path. If you want to fault us, you can say we haven't done a very good job of getting the message out where we stand on all these things."
It probably would have been tough for anyone to succeed the dynamic McNamara. But as one World Bank watcher says: "Clausen ran into two buzz saws. One was the deteriorating economic conditions around the world that triggered what we now call the debt crisis, and the second was the Reagan administration attitude -- mostly Treasury under Donald Regan -- which was that George Shultz had put one over by sneaking Clausen past them in 1980. You know, they had lost one of the big ones, a slot that guys like Pat Buchanan would like to get their hands on."
Pointedly, the perception that Clausen's Bank, as compared to McNamara's Bank, is a plodding bureaucracy without brilliant direction, was summed up in a phrase from Volcker, speaking privately at an off- the-record session of Bank staff persons on development strategy:
"Where's the Bank?" Volcker asked.
The truth is that both the Reagan administration and Clausen's Bank were slow to grasp the dimensions of the Third World debt crisis as it began to explode in 1982. And only lately have they both come to understand the need to provide debtor countries -- especially the Latin American middle-income nations -- with some hope for economic growth, following the periods of austerity under IMF-managed rescue programs.
Clausen may ultimately pay the penalty for the Bank's indecision back in 1982 and 1983. But with or without Clausen, for the Bank to play a bigger role now, it will need more generous financing than the administration and Congress have yet promised.