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The American Red Cross is facing new criticism and calls for independent oversight of the charity. NPR and ProPublica have brought you stories detailing the Red Cross' failings during several disasters. Now one congressman plans to introduce legislation that would open the charity's books to regular audits, both of its performance and how it spends donorsâ money. NPR's Laura Sullivan reports.
LAURA SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Congressman Bennie Thompson's list of concerns with the American Red Cross starts with Hurricane Katrina, when thousands were left without services, and moves forward.
BENNIE THOMPSON: My Katrina experience, lack of programming in Haiti, as well as ongoing challenges with Sandy. There is a need for a rigorous oversight on the Red Cross.
SULLIVAN: So about a year and half ago, he asked the Government Accountability Office to take a look to find out how the charity did and how it spent millions Americans donated. They didn't get far. Thompson says the Red Cross did not fully cooperate with the GAO.
THOMPSON: There was initial pushback from the standpoint of getting information.
SULLIVAN: And then it got worse. Last summer, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern sent Thompson, a 20-year veteran Democrat from Mississippi, a letter. She asked Thompson to, quote, âend the GAO inquiry,â gave the congressman her private cellphone number and asked that he not communicate with her in writing.
THOMPSON: Unbelievable, I mean, just - I don't know if this was an effort to convince me that anytime you got a problem, you can call me on my cellphone, and I can answer it. But, you know, this is not how Congress normally do business.
SULLIVAN: The results of that GAO inquiry are out this morning. Investigators concluded that the Red Cross needs, quote, "regular, external, independent and publicly disseminated evaluations." Thompson plans to introduce legislation today that does just that. It calls for regular audits from the Department of Homeland Security and Treasury and USAID. It also says the Red Cross must open its books and cooperate with all future GAO investigations.
THOMPSON: The public deserves and need to know that money is going for which it's intended. If it's going for the purpose intended, there should not be a problem in demonstrating and documenting that exactly is the activity that's going on.
SULLIVAN: The Red Cross declined NPR's request for an interview but said in a statement that the charity is not a federal agency and that there are already mechanisms in place to provide oversight, including its board of directors and ombudsman's office. Patrick Roberts is a professor at Virginia Tech who specializes in disasters and emergency response. He says the Red Cross has lagged behind other charities when it comes to oversight.
PATRICK ROBERTS: The Red Cross is a quasi-public organization chartered by Congress. It has a responsibility to the public even above and beyond other nonprofits. It is possible to track money and numbers in a better way and to figure out how much the Red Cross is spending on what.
SULLIVAN: In the meantime, the Red Cross is also under review on the other side of the hill by Republican Chuck Grassley in the Senate over its work in Haiti. Laura Sullivan, NPR News, Washington.
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