The Couples Rule

THE COUPLES RULE....I'm pretty convinced that Paul Wolfowitz played fast and loose with World Bank rules — not to mention common sense — when he arranged lavish pay raises and promotions for his girlfriend, who was forced to leave the bank when Wolfowitz took over in 2005. The World Bank staff may or may not have had it in for Wolfowitz from the beginning, but it hardly matters any more. He screwed up and it's time for him to leave.

But here's a broader subject to consider: why was Shaha Riza required to leave the World Bank in the first place? Answer: because World Bank rules don't allow couples to work at the Bank if one reports to the other even indirectly through a chain of supervision. Since everyone reports to the president, that meant she had to leave.

But is this an obsolete rule? The fear, obviously, is that Wolfowitz would display favoritism toward Riza, and just as obviously that's a legitimate fear. But why is this an issue only for couples? After all, when Wolfowitz took the job he brought along with him two buddies from the Bush administration, Kevin Kellems and Robin Cleveland, both of whom were offered high-paying jobs despite their lack of any particular relevant experience. This raised eyebrows at the time, but that was all. Their employment contracts were duly approved despite the fact that they were close to Wolfowitz and were plainly people to whom he'd be likely to show considerable favoritism in the future.

It's pretty reasonable that money arrangements (pay, bonuses, perks, etc.) should be specially scrutinized when couples are married, since money to one is essentially money to both. But beyond that level of scrutiny, which could be handled fairly routinely by an independent compensation review board of some kind, why should Riza have been treated any differently than anyone else who was obviously friendly with Wolfowitz? The "couples" rule probably affects women disproportionately by a factor of ten at least, and I wonder if it's finally time to think about whether it's obsolete. Favoritism ought to be scrutinized, but why should Riza have been scrutinized any more than Kellems and Cleveland?