Washington — A. W. (Tom) Clausen is not, in journalistic terms, an especially ``good interview.'' The former head of the World Bank does not speak with intellectual brilliance, colorful language, or catchy phrases. Perhaps that's one reason the press was not too kindly in its reviews of Mr. Clausen when he left office at the end of June, to be replaced by former United States Rep. Barber Conable.
Nonetheless, Mr. Clausen has managed significant and constructive changes at the Washington-based institution during his five-year term. These are of some importance to the majority of the people of the world who live in developing countries. The bank is the largest development loan institution in the world.
Asked in an interview here to note his accomplishments, Clausen spoke of ``moving the bank very definitely more into the realm of an economic institution rather than just an intermediary of funds.'' It has a new economic advisory role.
The World Bank has primarily been a lender of money raised at relatively low cost in the capital markets of the industrial nations to the world's poorer countries for specific projects -- dams, irrigation systems, roads, highways, power plants, and so on.
Within the past three or four years the bank has greatly strengthened an added dimension -- analysis of what national economic policy or industrial strategies will make those infrastructure projects more fruitful. Then the bank insists that developing countries make economic reforms as part of the terms of its loans.
This shift to what the bank calls ``policy-based lending'' has resulted from a widespread suspicion among economists and leaders of the industrial nations that the bank and, for that matter, bilateral foreign aid were not getting enough ``bang for the buck.''
Irrigation loans, for example, would not step up farm production much if national policy provided insufficient incentives to farmers. A loan to an industrial enterprise might not produce good results if that business could not export because of an unrealistic foreign-exchange rate. And so on.
Clausen agrees with the contention of these critics that for the developing countries, ``help starts at home.''
``The economic policies of a country make a difference to economic performance of that country,'' he says.
But he also contends that the industrial countries must manage their economic affairs better. The United States, for example, should reduce its budget deficit. There should be sufficient economic growth to stimulate the exports of the developing countries.
And, he says, there must be an adequate flow of fresh capital from the industrial nations into the developing countries.
One source of such funds is the multilateral development institutions, including the bank. During Clausen's years in office, the bank's loan commitments have been stepped up from about $8.5 billion in 1981 to $13.2 billion in its fiscal year just ended. This fiscal year, lending could reach $15 billion or better.
That's not as rapid growth as occurred during the years when Robert S. McNamara was president. The bank's lending grew from about $1 billion in 1968 to about $8 billion in 1981, when Mr. McNamara left.
Some critics have maintained that the World Bank should have been doing more to pump money into the developing countries during their debt crisis. Clausen holds that the ``geometric'' growth of bank lending in the 1970s was unsustainable and that more emphasis had to be put on the quality and effectiveness of loans.
Bank lending to Latin America, which has the most troublesome debtor nations, jumped from $3.6 billion in fiscal 1985 to $4.7 billion in fiscal 1986. Lending to the list of debtor nations chosen by US Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III for special attention has grown 38 percent in the same period, to a little more than $6 billion.
The 150-member-nation bank has also been disbursing money much faster, once loan commitments have been made. Clausen says that trend will continue in fiscal 1987, now under way.
Other accomplishments of the Clausen years include:
The launching of a special lending facility for sub-Saharan Africa with money from 17 donor nations. It lent $700 million last fiscal year.
Greater emphasis on free enterprise and free markets.
The International Finance Corporation, the World Bank affiliate that lends to and invests in private enterprise, has doubled its capital in the past five years. It provided more than $1.1 billion for about 85 projects last fiscal year.
The bank, after four decades of trying, has succeeded in launching the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency to provide insurance against expropriation or other political threats to foreign investment in developing countries.
``More and more countries are aware that if they can attract equity capital, this is money they do not have to service with interest payments,'' Clausen notes.
Further, the bank has boosted its ``catalytic'' role, drawing in co-financing from commercial banks, investment banks, export credit agencies, and other institutions to the tune of $4 billion to $5 billion a year.
The bank has greatly enlarged its loans for agricultural research, research that is crucial to keeping the growing world population fed properly.
The ability of developing countries to borrow money from the bank at gradually cheaper rates. In 1982, the bank broke with 35 years of tradition to end fixed-rate lending and introduce an adjustable lending rate. Rates have declined from 11.6 percent fixed in January 1982 to 8.23 percent variable as of last week.
Moreover, the bank is sufficiently liquid that it does not have to borrow on world capital markets at times of interest rate peaks. And it makes huge profits by reinvesting its surplus borrowed money in the money markets until needed for loans to developing countries.
The bank's finances have been greatly strengthened. It has issued debt in many new capital markets and developed new types of debt instruments. This has made the bank's sources of money more secure and cheaper.
``The World Bank is the soundest financial institution I know of,'' its former president says.
Clausen considers his greatest disappointment to be his failure to win approval by 33 donor nations to the International Development Association (IDA) of more than $9 billion over three years for its last replenishment of funds. The US blocked suggestions of $12 billion. The IDA makes low-cost loans to the poorest nations.
The next replenishment, the eighth, will be discussed in Paris next week, and Clausen has hopes for more money this time.
Mr. Clausen won't say specifically what he will be doing now, except that he isn't retiring. But he will be working in the development field out of Washington. ``I am hooked,'' he says.