In a private letter sent in 2014, American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern appealed to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) to end a congressional inquiry into the organization's federally mandated role in responding to disasters, ProPublica and National Public Radio report.
The Government Accountability Office was four months into an investigation requested by Thompson, the ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, when McGovern requested a meeting and followed up with a letter dated June 30, 2014. "As I mentioned at the end of our discussion," she wrote in the letter, "I would like to respectfully request that you consider meeting face to face rather than requesting information via letter and end the GAO inquiry that is currently underway." The reason she preferred to discuss the GAO's concerns in person, the letter further stated, was that "[r]esponding to the questions and participating in interviews (particularly because of the broadness of the questions) is using a great deal of staff resources....In addition, I feel that I can better address your concerns when we have a two-way dialogue."
Despite McGovern's appeal, the GAO inquiry continued as planned, and the completed report is expected to be released next month. A spokesperson for GAO told ProPublica and NPR that its researchers were unaware of the request to end the investigation and the letter had no impact on their work. The Red Cross has been criticized in recent years for its reluctance to release details of how it spent funds raised for relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Superstorm Sandy, and other disasters and for not addressing internal concerns about in the efficiency of its relief operations — even as McGovern has sought to portray the organization as a model of transparency.
In a statement to ProPublica and NPR, the Red Cross said it was cooperating with GAO and "would continue to answer all of their questions." "We asked if we could answer the questions face to face rather than through a GAO study, which takes precious staff time and resources and months to complete," said the statement. "Even though that did not happen, we continue our work with the GAO."
"Over time, the public has come to accept the American Red Cross as a key player in the nation's system for disaster relief," Thompson said in an email to ProPublica and NPR. "It is unfortunate that in light of numerous allegations of mismanagement, the American Red Cross would shun accountability, transparency, and simple oversight."