The bank's staff association has criticized his management and last week called for his resignation.
Sources close to the executive directors, speaking on the condition of anonymity while the matter remains undecided, said the board is reluctant to appear to cave to the staff and take the unprecedented step of firing a president. But a majority believes it would be "best if he decided on his own" to resign, one source said.
The board has "clear support from political authorities" -- the finance ministers who make up the bank's governing body -- "to go ahead and define whether a violation has taken place" and what the consequences should be, the source said. But the board has set no timetable for a decision. "For one thing, the United States has to find someone as a replacement. It's not something you decide overnight."
The U.S. president traditionally names the World Bank head. Bush said last week that he strongly supports Wolfowitz and expects him to continue in the job.
One problem the board faces in considering Wolfowitz's case is its own role. While negotiating his contract, Wolfowitz declared the conflict of interest and offered to recuse himself from all personnel dealings with the woman the bank has since called his "domestic partner," Shaha Riza. The board's ethics committee determined that bank rules required her to leave, while remaining on the bank payroll, and instructed Wolfowitz to arrange a compensation package through the human resources department.
The package Wolfowitz dictated resulted in an increased pay grade, substantial raises -- from $132,660 when Riza left the bank to a current $193,590 -- and promotions upon her eventual return, but the board showed no further interest in learning the terms of the deal.
"I'm amazed that the ethics committee had a lot of views, but then stepped back from their implementation," said Ruth Wedgwood, a professor of international law at Johns Hopkins University. Turning the matter over to Wolfowitz to resolve in the first place, she noted, was "sort of oxymoronic: 'You can't recuse yourself enough to suit us, but we want you to be formally in the chain of command to resolve this.' "