WASHINGTON – Lawmakers intensified their scrutiny of the Red Cross on Thursday as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee asked the organization for correspondence, minutes of board meetings and other records.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, questioned the effectiveness of the agency's Board of Governors in a letter requesting an array of documents. He said the review will determine "whether the current board and governance structure meets the high level of competence and engagement" that is expected of the agency.
The agency has come under fire from critics who say it failed to respond quickly enough after Hurricane Katrina. In particular, they believe the response in some low-income, minority areas was inadequate. Others have faulted it for balking at cooperation with grass-roots organizations even as it collected the bulk of hurricane relief funds.
On the positive side, the group mobilized roughly 220,000 volunteers in response to the hurricanes, accommodated hundreds of thousands of evacuees in shelters and provided financial aid to about 1.2 million families.
On its Web site, the Red Cross said, "We have enjoyed a positive working relationship with the senator and welcome his questions as well as the opportunity to respond to his concerns." It said it would respond to Grassley's questions by Jan. 30.
Earlier this month, Marsha J. Evans resigned her post as president of the American Red Cross. The resignation occurred shortly before House lawmakers held a hearing about the agency's hurricane response.
Evans' departure occurred because of concerns "about her management approach, and coordination and communication with the board," an agency spokesman said at the time.
In his letter, Grassley said he wants a "detailed discussion" of what led Evans to leave. The public "deserves more than a papering over of the reasons for her departure," he said.
The American Red Cross functions independently of the government but works closely with government agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, during major crises. It also provides aid to members of the armed forces and to disaster victims at home and abroad.
The Senate Finance Committee's review of the Red Cross after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks led to a new policy that allows donors to direct how their money is to be spent.
The items Grassley requested include:
—Copies of all board minutes for the last five years.
—All materials provided to board members during the last five years.
—All communications between board members and the president and CEO for the last five years.
—Copies of Evans' severance package or proposed severance package.
—Copies of Internal Revenue Service filings.
Grassley also said he wants explanations of complaints about the agency's poor working relationship with leaders of local charities, as well as detailed information about its spending practices, including spending for tsunami relief and Katrina relief.