MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
There's been a shakeup at the American Red Cross. President and CEO Marsha Evans resigned today after facing criticism of the Red Cross response to Hurricane Katrina. Evans took over in 2002, a year after the September 11th attacks. The group was severely criticized then for how it handled money raised for 9/11 victims. The Red Cross promised more openness and accountability, but Hurricane Katrina raised new questions about the group's effectiveness. NPR's Howard Berkes reports.
HOWARD BERKES reporting:
Marsha Evans is a retired Navy rear admiral who led the Girl Scouts before taking the helm at the American Red Cross. She became president and CEO when the nation's biggest charity was reeling from its response to the September 11th attacks. The Red Cross collected more than a billion dollars for 9/11 victims, but set aside 200 million for other disasters. Under Evans, the Red Cross pledged more transparency and began to rebuild its reputation. Then came Hurricane Katrina.
Unidentified Man: How many of you have had trouble with the American Red Cross?
(Soundbite of crowd response)
BERKES: A month after Katrina, evacuees at this forum in Houma, Louisiana, had plenty of complaints. Janis Dilliad was frustrated trying to register for Red Cross help.
Ms. JANIS DILLIAD: You can't get through unless you use a cell phone. You sit there eight hours before you get through. You get through, you sit on there three to five hours on hold. Where do we turn?
BERKES: All across the Gulf Coast, from Houston to Houma to Hancock County, Mississippi, some people complained about little or no Red Cross help, especially in non-white neighborhoods and rural areas. This happened despite an exclusive congressional mandate to provide disaster relief. Dee Lumpkin is the deputy director of the emergency management agency in Hancock County, which faced Katrina's most powerful winds and deepest floodwater.
Ms. DEE LUMPKIN (Deputy Director, Emergency Management Agency, Hancock County): You know, we asked for supply kits to be sent right after the storm. We never received them. We did finally receive some supplies from them just a few weeks ago, and I mean, we're--What?--four months into the storm now?
BERKES: Hancock County officials say they also begged for food, shelters and volunteers and waited 12 days for a response. But none of this has anything to do with Marsha Evans' resignation. That's according to Jack McGuire, her interim replacement, who refers to Evans by her nickname.
Mr. JACK McGUIRE (Interim CEO, American Red Cross): The board actually was very pleased with Marty's leadership during Katrina, and we were pleased with the organization's response to Katrina.
BERKES: Pleased because the Red Cross mobilized 200,000 volunteers and $2 billion in relief efforts, helping millions of Katrina victims. The board sought Marsha Evans' resignation, McGuire says, due to internal communication and coordination problems. NPR left messages on Evans' cell phone today, but she hasn't returned them. McGuire adds that addressing the Katrina failures is his top priority as interim CEO. But he doesn't expect major changes in Red Cross operations.
Mr. McGUIRE: Now I don't anticipate any change in that core mission, nor have I been asked by the board to consider any change in that core mission.
BERKES: Congress may have something to say about that. Today a House subcommittee focused on the Red Cross hurricane response. Subcommittee Chairman Jim Ramstad of Minnesota noted the change in Red Cross leadership.
Representative JIM RAMSTAD (Republican, Minnesota): I believe the coming transition at the American Red Cross offers an opportunity for Red Cross management to respond to the concerns that have been raised and will be discussed here today.
BERKES: And Republican Jim McCrery of Louisiana wondered about a key part of the Red Cross mission.
Representative JIM McCRERY (Republican, Louisiana): After witnessing the Red Cross' struggles during Katrina and Rita, I question whether it's prudent for Congress to place such great responsibility in the hands of one organization.
BERKES: The Red Cross says it has already launched an effort to learn from its Katrina shortcomings. Howard Berkes, NPR News.
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