Red Cross CEO dodges Congress’ questions about cuts

By Justin Elliott
ProPublica

The American Red Cross has failed to answer a congressman’s questions about deep cuts the charity has made to staff and local offices.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, the ranking member of the House homeland security committee, sent the charity a long list of questions after ProPublica recently revealed the cuts and detailed how they have eroded the Red Cross’ ability to respond to even modest disasters.

Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern responded in a letter late last month that she has tried to lower “the costs of delivering our services to the public — without diminishing the services themselves — and we believe we have achieved that goal.”

But McGovern did not answer basic questions about the cuts, including how many actual chapter offices she has closed.

Today there are around 250 Red Cross chapters compared to 700 when McGovern was hired in 2008. But the charity has never said which chapter offices were closed and which were merely folded into a larger regional chapter.

McGovern also ignored Thompson’s question about how many emergency planners have told the Red Cross they are no longer incorporating the charity in their response plans.

As we reported, some local officials as well as former Red Cross staffers say the charity can no longer be relied on to respond to disasters.

Thompson, who has been pushing for more oversight of the Red Cross, told ProPublica that he is “troubled” by the lack of answers.

“While I appreciate the Red Cross’ submission of a response to my December letter, I am troubled that questions were ignored and some of the responses provided were inconsistent with information from numerous media reports,” Thompson said in a statement. “I will continue my oversight of the Red Cross and will not stop until all questions are answered, and I am assured that the Red Cross is in the position to effectively carry out its mission in all communities across the United States.”

Asked about the charity’s failure to answer the congressman’s questions, a Red Cross spokesperson declined to comment.

The charity, which an official role in responding to disasters, has a history of avoiding outside scrutiny.

In 2014, McGovern tried to kill a investigation into the charity by the Government Accountability Office. After that failed and the inquiry went forward, the Red Cross didn’t provide full access to the government investigators.


If you have information about the Red Cross — or any other tips — please email justin@propublica.org.

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