Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Running the World Bank Like A US Corporation

One of the things I've noticed about many Republicans over the years is that when they run for office they talk about running the government more efficiently, by which they mean more business-like. While the analogy might seem appropriate in the face of government waste, it breaks down when looking at the purpose of government as a whole: the government (at whatever level) is not about showing a profit.

International agencies, such as the United Nations or (in the case of this post)the World Bank are not 'governments,' but they do share some of the same characteristics and goals and they are functions of the governments which form and back them. Apparently Paul Wolfowitz, who moved from the Defense Department to become the new president of the World Bank, has conveniently forgotten this, and long-time employees of the organization are both nervous and displeased by some of his actions, with good cause. Today's Washington Post describes Wolfowitz's rocky beginning at the bank whose stated mission is international development to alleviate poverty in the world.

At the World Bank, they are sometimes referred to as "the entourage," "the palace guard," or "the circle of trust," because of their close relationship with bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz. They are Americans with ties to the Bush administration, and the immense clout they wield has sparked a furor in the ranks of the giant development leader.

Their roles have rekindled fears among the staff that Wolfowitz, the former U.S. deputy defense secretary, is bent on imposing a conservative agenda on the bank. Wolfowitz has repeatedly sought to dispel such concerns since he became bank president in June. He has pledged his commitment to the bank's mission of alleviating poverty, and his unassuming manner has charmed many staffers who were averse to his role as a chief strategist of the U.S.-Iraq war

...The most influential is Robin Cleveland, who worked closely with Wolfowitz when she was a senior official at the Office of Management and Budget and is now his top adviser. Two others are Kevin S. Kellems, a former spokesman for Vice President Cheney who last month became the bank's chief communications strategist; and Suzanne Rich Folsom, a former Republican activist named last month to head the Department of Institutional Integrity, the bank's internal watchdog unit. Kellems also holds the title of senior adviser to the president, and Folsom has the title of counselor to the president.

With little development experience, one or more members of that trio advise Wolfowitz on many of his major decisions and act as his conduits to other bank officials.
[Emphasis added]

That a CEO would want trusted colleagues sitting alongside him in a new job is certainly understandable, but the World Bank is not a Fortune 500 company. The problem is complicated by the fact that apparently Wolfowitz's staff insulates him from those in the organization who actually have long years with the organization and who understand the international mandate of the agency and have the contacts to carry out that mandate.

Most worrisome is that Wolfowitz and his staff have strong White House and Republican ties, which at this time in history does not bode well. Staffers have to have noticed that the Resident appointed a known UN critic to the post of Ambassador to the United Nations, one who has spent the time since his recess appointment hampering the UN's attempt to move forward on such issues of climate change and even its own reorganization. They also have to have noticed that in the US, "Friends of George" have been appointed to posts they have no competence in (FEMA, NASA PR, MSHA) with disasterous and sometimes tragic consequences. By appointing only Americans with the same ideology as the White House, Wolfowitz has certainly done little to dispel the worries of the World Bank Staff.

Another "way to go, George?" Probably.


Anonymous larry said...

'Run it like a business' is an old canard from the 70's. It's why U.S. universities have lost their appeal and value to foreign students. It's what's ruining our schools, and has ruined our railroads. It should be 'Ruin it like a business'. One of my partners has an MBA, and works for a real business, and believe me, he doesn't seem to know shit about what's going on. They're all about finding a new way to squeeze more blood out of the same turnip. Basically, I baelieve whatever a business-person says is to try to get ther hand in my pocket.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Interrobang said...

I own my own business, and I sure as shit don't want universities, NGOs, and governmental entities run that way. While one of the primary functions of business is to provide a product or service, one of the other primary functions of business is to make a profit, and those kinds of organisations have no, um, business being run that way. Another defining characteristic of business is its love of shameless self-promotion, which is essential to making a profit, but it isn't exactly fundamental (and it can be detrimental) to other kinds of organisations.

Speaking as a business owner who's about as far from the crony capitalist, cheap-labour conservative mentality as you can get, if one of those crony-capitalist cheap-labour conservatives tells you he wants to run a non-business organisation like a business, don't walk, run in the other direction, because he's on the take.

7:21 AM  

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