Top Reagan administration officials have begun to explore whether Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul A. Volcker would be willing to become president of the World Bank, succeeding A.W. (Tom) Clausen, whose term expires next year, officials said yesterday.
Volcker's term as Federal Reserve chairman does not expire until August 1987. And one official said "we are very interested" in whether he would want to leave it early for the World Bank.
Other sources close to Volcker speculated yesterday that he probably would not accept the World Bank post if it were offered, because of the continuing international debt crisis and other key economic decisions to be made at the Fed. A Federal Reserve spokesman said Volcker would have no comment.
President Reagan is expected to fill one vacancy on the seven-member board of governors soon and will have an opportunity to fill another early next year, bringing his appointments on the board to four and putting a lasting imprint on one of the nation's most important economic policy-making bodies.
The Fed has a strong influence over the money supply, affecting interest rates, inflation and economic growth.
During Reagan's presidency, the White House has often, but not always, been at odds with the Fed over monetary policy. Administration officials have complained that the Fed has at times been too restrictive and that it has not achieved steady growth of the money supply. Volcker has been critical of $200 billion budget deficits that blossomed during Reagan's presidency.
Discussing the two anticipated Fed nominations, expected in the next few weeks, an informed official said, "The next question is what happens to Volcker. The World Bank presidency is coming up. We'd like to know if he's interested."
It could not be learned whether administration officials have asked Volcker directly about the World Bank position.
A private economist with close ties to the Fed chairman said "if Volcker is interested, I would be really quite surprised."
Another private economic consultant who knows Volcker said, "I don't think he is the slightest bit interested at this point." He added that with Mexico's economic problems unsettled and "other problems coming to a moderate boil, why go to the World Bank?"
Reagan reappointed Volcker in 1983 to a second four-year term. Volcker has said a new president should have the power within a year of taking office to name his own Fed chairman.
Volcker made no mention of stepping down early when his reappointment was announced, although there has been speculation that he would.
In 1983, Volcker was also quoted by other officials as predicting that it would take another 18 months to resolve the international debt crisis. However, the debt problems have persisted longer than that.
Administration officials reported last week that Secretary of State George P. Shultz is convinced that efforts to arrest the three-year-old debt crisis are not working and that new steps are required. The administration is reportedly mapping a strategy that would give the World Bank a larger role in aiding debt-burdened nations while reducing the power of the International Monetary Fund.
The World Bank president by tradition and common understanding comes from the United States while the International Monetary Fund is headed by a European. The White House does not directly appoint the World Bank president, but the United States for all practical purposes selects the official.
However, sources close to Volcker pointed out that he would have a more powerful voice in international economic policy if he remained at the Fed than if he went to the World Bank. Speculation about Volcker going to the World Bank has been circulating in banking circles. It is not known how recently the White House became interested in whether Volcker would take the job.
Administration officials said yesterday they did not expect Reagan to seek the reappointment of Clausen, who was named in the final year of the Carter administration with Reagan's consent. Officials have expressed disappointment with Clausen's leadership.