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Kim Is Being Found Out

The Times has picked up on Jim Kim’s ongoing difficulties at the World Bank. Though Annie Lowrey’s piece tries scrupulously to offer all sides of the situation (commentators note that the Bank hasn’t been reorganized in decades and there is plenty of capital available now to even poor countries; Kim himself chirpily comments on how well things are going; senior staffers opine that change always elicits controversy), the undercurrent of personal dislike for Kim on the part of the Bank’s rank and file pervades the account:

WASHINGTON — The World Bank, a famously bureaucratic institution, is undergoing its first restructuring in nearly two decades. The overhaul is intended to keep it relevant at a time when even the poorest countries can easily tap the global capital markets, but with just weeks to go, the process has turned into what several staff members described as a nightmare, stalling their work and sapping morale…

The complaints from the bank’s core staff in Washington, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation, started piling up almost as soon as Dr. Kim initiated the reorganization. And over time, more and more of those complaints have been directed at Dr. Kim personally.

“This is not the way you run a change program,” said Paul Cadario, who worked at the bank for more than three decades. “No vision. No communications mechanism. No indication when it’s all going to be over.”

That turmoil has created what some people inside the World Bank described as a toxic environment. In not-for-attribution interviews, midlevel officials voiced concerns about such moves as restrictions on travel expenses even as hordes of highly paid McKinsey and Booz Allen consultants roamed the halls — and Dr. Kim was accused of hypocrisy for his own expenditures.

“The staff are clearly unhappy,” said Nancy Birdsall, the president of the Center for Global Development, a Washington-based research group. “There’s been a loss of confidence, not necessarily in the idea of the reorganization, but in the process.”…

Pettier concerns have abounded, too. As part of the $400 million cost-cutting exercise, the bank issued new guidelines on travel, limiting business-class flights and even adjusting breakfast allowances. “Leadership needs to reflect: Are ‘breakfast savings’ worth the ‘expense’ of staff morale?” said one letter in a popular alumni newsletter.

Perhaps no change caused more outrage than the elimination of parking subsidies for the crowded and expensive downtown garages where many officials park. Yet “to subsidize parking is a little weird for an organization like us,” countered Bertrand Badré, the bank’s chief financial officer, pointing out that the bank is committed to combating climate change.

Many complaints, serious and frivolous, have also questioned Dr. Kim’s management — especially concerns about his lack of communication with rank-and-file employees and perceptions of his overspending when asking the rest of the bank to cut back.

A much-discussed Financial Times editorial rebuked him for his use of private planes. One other popular rumor had Dr. Kim purchasing a tuxedo and charging the World Bank for it…

And Dr. Kim himself said that he believed the bank’s staff would see dividends after July 1. “I think it’s going better than I could have imagined two years ago,” he said.

We’ve seen it all before.

Addendum: While all intelligent reorganizations generate controversy, not all controversial reorganizations are intelligent.

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