World Bank:

Status of Grievance Process Reform

NSIAD-99-96: Published: May 13, 1999. Publicly Released: May 13, 1999.

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Harold J. Johnson, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the World Bank's efforts to reform its employee grievance process, focusing on: (1) the Grievance Process Review Committee's principal findings and recommendations to make the system more fair and credible and steps the Bank plans to take to implement these recommendations; and (2) key issues that Bank management will face as it moves to implement these recommendations.

GAO noted that: (1) the Review Committee found that the Bank's grievance system over emphasized formal, adversarial approaches to dispute resolution; lacked sufficient independence from management influence; did not adequately protect grievants' rights or hold managers accountable for complying with Bank rules regarding appropriate treatment of subordinates; and was not readily accessible to employees located away from the Bank's Washington D.C., headquarters; (2) the Review Committee also concluded that individuals charged with implementing certain responsibilities within the system lacked necessary expertise; (3) the Review Committee prepared a plan of action, accepted by management in February 1999 and endorsed by the Board of Executive Directors' Personnel Committee, that is designed to improve the system's effectiveness and credibility; (4) based on GAO's review of the plan and other alternatives considered by the Committee, GAO notes that the measures recommended by the Committee refine and enhance but do not fundamentally alter the Bank's grievance system; (5) among other things, the plan includes steps to: (a) strengthen the system's provisions for informal dispute resolution; (b) hire additional staff with skill in relevant areas like discrimination and employment law; (c) increase the system's independence; (d) strengthen procedural safeguards for grievants; (e) hold managers accountable for complying with Bank rules regarding appropriate treatment of subordinates; and (f) expand access for field-based employees; (6) the Review Committee also recommended creating a Conflict Resolution Network composed of Bank units with relevant responsibilities to provide a focal point for sustaining the Bank's commitment to ensuring that the new system functions as intended; (7) the Network will report to the Office of the Bank's President; (8) the Committee decided against recommending more far-reaching changes, such as providing for independent arbitration of grievances, at this time; (9) the Review Committee identified a number of significant procedural and operational issues for others to address as implementation proceeds; (10) the Bank must develop guidelines and regulations in several areas, train its staff to properly carry out their new responsibilities, and create a meaningful system for monitoring the system's performance and recommending additional refinements as necessary; and (11) as the Bank has just begun implementing the Committee's recommendations, it is too early to assess their actual impact on the manner in which employee grievances are addressed.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Officials from the Treasury Department and the Office of the U.S. Executive Director have met with staff from the Bank's new Conflict Resolution Network to review implementation progress and encourage additional refinements. As a result, several changes have been recently introduced to increase the fairness and credibility of the process. In late 1999, the Bank introduced a mediation office to provide a less adversarial approach to resolving conflict, a revised Code of Ethics, and a new outreach coordinator. In January 2000, the Bank introduced new rules to increase the effectiveness of the Appeals Committee, and began offering a training course on conflict resolution for supervisors (mandatory) and staff (voluntary). The Bank's Administrative Tribunal (the Bank's final appeals "court") is also planning a retrospective assessment of its 20-year existence.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Bank achieves its ultimate goal of restoring employee confidence in the grievance system, the U.S. Executive Director should work with other members of the Executive Directors' Personnel Committee to actively monitor Bank efforts to implement the new system developed by the Review Committee, assess its performance, and introduce additional refinements as needed.

    Agency Affected: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank)

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation is being closed because the Office of the U.S. Executive Director did not respond to repeated requests for information on whether Bank staff had followed through on their initiatives in this area. Following publication of GAO's report, Treasury and U.S. Executive Director staff monitored Bank efforts to develop and apply such indicators. In late 2000, the Bank's conflict resolution office administered a survey to a wide sample of staff. The survey provided information that could serve as a baseline to measure changes in staff perceptions of the system. It measured perceptions of the system's effectiveness, fairness, credibility, independence, and accessibility, among other issues. Bank management and the conflict resolution office reported using the survey findings to identify outstanding issues and focus communications and outreach efforts. The conflict resolution office stated its intention to conduct a follow-up survey to gauge the impact of these improvement initiatives. However, GAO was unable to obtain information as to whether this follow-up survey had been carried out or the results applied to assess progress.

    Recommendation: One critical element in helping to ensure the success of the reforms adopted by the Bank is the collection of meaningful data on whether these reforms have made the system more fair and credible. These measurement criteria have yet to be developed. To help assure that the Bank's goals are achieved, the U.S. Executive Director should work with other members of the Personnel Committee to ensure that the Bank develops indicators that will provide an adequate basis for judging the reforms' actual impact.

    Agency Affected: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank)


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