MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The American Red Cross is under pressure this week to answer detailed questions from Congress about how it spent nearly half a billion dollars in Haiti. But new documents obtained by NPR and ProPublica reveal the organization may not have an accurate accounting of that. NPR's Laura Sullivan brings us this latest in a series of reports.
LAURA SULLIVAN, BYLINE: The American Red Cross has consistently defended its work in Haiti, saying it operated through difficult circumstances to help millions of people get back on their feet. But the organization has so far not said how it spent the almost half a billion dollars people donated - what programs and what its expenses were. It's possible the Red Cross may not have all of those answers. NPR and ProPublica obtained two internal reports written in 2012, two years into the earthquake relief. They revealed the charity wasn't properly monitoring its own spending, wasn't overseeing its projects and didn't know whether or not the projects were successful.
BONNIE KITTLE: It is very heartbreaking.
SULLIVAN: Bonnie Kittle wrote one of the reports which looked at the Red Cross' Haiti efforts and its health and water and sanitation programs.
KITTLE: The only real advantage that the American Red Cross had over lots of other organizations was that it had this huge amount of money. Otherwise, it was very handicapped.
SULLIVAN: One report found the Red Cross had, quote, "no correct process for monitoring project spending." Another pointed to $10 million the charity gave to other nonprofits to fight the spread of cholera. The review found the Red Cross did not evaluate any of the other nonprofits' work, didn't seem to know if any of the objectives had been achieved and wasn't aware that one of the nonprofits mismanaged its funds. The review concludes, quote, "it is too late to tend to this."
The Red Cross declined NPR's request for comment, saying NPR and ProPublica have mischaracterized the charity's work, and, quote, "we will no longer respond to your requests." Kittle says the Red Cross provided Haitians with important skills, and the Red Cross' workers were passionate and dedicated, but their efforts were often thwarted by headquarters and long bureaucratic slowdowns. She says the Red Cross ran into trouble when it shifted from its expertise of emergency relief to redevelopment. She pointed to one 24-million-dollar project in the neighborhood of Campeche in the hills of Port-au-Prince. The Red Cross promised to build residents new homes, but has not done so.
KITTLE: It's really easy to be very disappointed when you - when you hear those numbers, those - the amounts of money and the little that it seems that they were able to accomplish.
SULLIVAN: Francois Pierre-Louis is an associate professor at Queens College in New York and works closely with community organizations in Haiti. He read both the reports and says they shock him.
FRANCOIS PIERRE-LOUIS: Given the expertise of the American Red Cross and given the amount of money that they had to address these issues, they were so incompetent.
SULLIVAN: Pierre-Louis says he was upset to learn some Red Cross managers had little meaningful interaction with local residents. One of the reports found turnover was so high at one point, 20 out of 24 senior managers in Haiti decided not to renew their contracts.
PIERRE-LOUIS: One of the things you can see in these reports - I don't see anywhere they had community meetings to ask the locals organizations, how can we do this differently?
SULLIVAN: Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa who's been monitoring the Red Cross, has asked the charity to answer more than a dozen detailed questions by tomorrow about how it spent the money in Haiti and what exactly that money achieved. Laura Sullivan, NPR News, Washington.
BLOCK: Laura reported this story with ProPublica's Justin Elliott.
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