Morning Report 12/16/05
Wolfie Does Some Trust-Busting at the World Bank
Paranoia about Wolfowitz's new cabal courses through the staff
World Bank employees are acting paranoid about the cabal cobbled together by new boss Paul Wolfowitz. But is it paranoia if they're really out to get you?
Suspicion of Wolfowitz's motives are running rampant among the 10,000 employees of the world's most powerful bank, according to fresh internal memos I obtained. The topic is the 2005 Staff Survey, a huge annual undertaking that depends upon anonymity and confidentiality.
Gee, why should anyone be suspicious of the genial architect of the Iraq debacle? Because the guy is setting up his own little cabal to run the World Bank — recruiting from the White House and Pentagon, naturally.
Sparked by what some bank employees tell me is an unprecedented level of employee suspicion toward a bank president, Xavier Coll, the bank's personnel chief, issued a memo late Wednesday afternoon that said:
- The Bank Group's management team is aware of concerns expressed by some staff about the anonymity and confidentiality of responses to the 2005 Staff Survey.
"Concerns"? That's putting it mildly. Coll's memo was an attempt to assure employees that their anonymity would be protected as they filled out the survey.
Alison Cave, chair of the World Bank Group Staff Association, which formally represents employees in the bureaucracy of the bank, tried to offer the same encouragement, while noting that "staff are not required to fill in the demographic data, nor answer any specific questions if they are concerned about repercussions. However, the survey results are more useful if this information is filled in." She added:
- It helps the Staff Association know which groups in the Bank are particularly happy or unhappy, and tells us where we need to focus our efforts and hold management accountable. In addition, the aggregated information is available to anyone in the Bank — ensuring both transparency and accountability.
But her memo acknowledged some chilling realities, including this:
- I am also concerned by reports that managers are pressuring staff to respond positively to the survey, and not be honest and candid about any negatives. I would ask that you let me know which managers are doing this.
We're not talking about some little community bank here. This is arguably the world's most influential bank, and it has a huge staff, many of whom are altruistic, even if their bosses, like Wolfowitz and his imports, who include the disgraced and disgraceful Robin Cleveland (a figure in one of the Pentagon's bigger Boeing scandals), aren't.
Wolfie's gal pal, Shaha Ali Riza, is safe from her fellow employees' wrath, having moved from the World Bank to the State Department on "external assignment." But Wolfie is building a fine little cabal over at the bank anyway.
The huge bank's internal workings are naturally dense and enormous, and the staff surveys are part of that extensive, and expensive, bureaucracy. For example, a November 2005 report from the bank's own World Bank Institute (I told you it was a complex bureaucracy) noted:
Staff learning is critical to the success of World Bank operations and represents an important investment. According to Building Staff Capacity for Development (Learning Board 2005), approximately 2,900 staff learning activities took place in FY05 at a cost of $81.9 million.
The Bank's Staff Learning Framework has provided strategic direction for professional development activities since FY02. Central to this framework is the Bank's Knowledge and Learning Board (formerly the Learning Board), which has shifted the emphasis from monitoring numbers of learning events to evaluating the quality of staff learning. The main challenge for staff learning is how best to produce outcomes linked to business results.
And the Staff Survey is an often helpful, often meaningless, but always time-consuming, part of the internal bureaucracy, as the report also noted:
- The December 2003 Staff Survey indicated that most Bank staff understand the organization's goals and direction, suggesting that corporate awareness campaigns have been successful.
In any case, it's clear that many World Bank employees take the surveys seriously. And the Staff Association takes its role — to try to be an in-house watchdog — seriously as well. Alison Cave's memo to the staff concluded:
I would ask that you share this information with any staff that express fear or concern about filling out the survey. Again, they do not have to fill out any questions that make them uncomfortable. However, the survey will only be useful if we get candid responses. If people do not speak up, nothing will change.
Please let me know if you have any questions or lingering concerns. And remember, the Staff Association will stand up, firmly and loudly, for any staff member who is retaliated against for speaking honestly about concerns.
I second that emotion, and I look forward to obtaining — in exchange for my own firm and unshakeable pledge of confidentiality and anonymity — more memos from inside the World Bank.
But Wolfowitz is the guy we all need to talk to. He made his escape from the Pentagon without having to answer tough, formal questions about his role in the Iraq debacle.
However, he didn't escape a December 7 luncheon speech on trade to the National Press Club without answering questions about Iraq. The session, moderated by Business Week's White House reporter, Rick Dunham, ended with a hard question wrapped in a warm and fuzzy softball about Wolfie's "feelings":
DUNHAM: Before I ask the final question, I'd like to make a presentation of the National Press Club mug —
WOLFOWITZ: You think I —
DUNHAM: — and a certificate of appreciation. This is before we ask the final question. (Applause.)
And now, before I get the mug thrown back at me — (chuckles) — there's — one of the reporter here points out, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Jackson, lead Nuremberg prosecutor, called wars of [aggression], quote, "the supreme international crime." The — a lot of people have attacked you very personally around the country and around the world.
I wanted to get your sense of what it's like to be on the receiving end of all of this. How you deal with it, if you take it personally, or if you and the other neoconservatives see this as having been worth whatever the costs are to you personally and to the nation?
WOLFOWITZ: Personal questions are hard. I suppose the most personal part of it is, I've been to a lot of funerals. I've spent a lot of time with wounded soldiers and their families. The price that American soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen — one Coast Guard's been actually killed, first time since World War II — is high. It's been higher in past wars in sheer numbers, but it's high. And every one of those statistics is a personal tragedy. It always makes you think.
Makes you want to throw up.
Take a look at Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank's fine and funny analysis, "Intelligence Design and the Architecture of War," of Wolfie's speech, which the World Bank president gave while protesters gathered outside the National Press Club to shout at him. Just Milbank's beginning and ending are worth it. The beginning:
- On another day when the Iraq war was tearing Washington apart, a leading architect of that war, Paul D. Wolfowitz, was donning sheep's clothing over at the National Press Club.
Milbank ended his piece by grafting a coda to more of Wolfie's reply to Dunham's closing question:
Dunham took the precaution of presenting Wolfowitz with the customary press club mug and certificate "before we ask the final question," and for good reason: It tied the Nuremberg war trials to Wolfowitz and the Iraq war.
Wolfowitz was unbowed. "I still think that what has been done for the United States and the world is something important," he said. Praising the sacrifices of U.S. and allied troops, he added that Iraq will become a place of "tolerance and freedom" in the Muslim world. "I think the whole world, frankly, should be enormously grateful."
Wolfowitz took a back elevator to the garage and avoided the protest outside.
And to think that World Bank employees wouldn't trust this guy? What a shock.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in New York, delivered to your inbox.