Senate Bill Seeks to Open Red Cross to GAO Oversight

Senate Bill Seeks to Open Red Cross to GAO Oversight

Legislation introduced in the Senate earlier this week by Senate Judiciary Committee chair Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) would open the American Red Cross to outside oversight — scrutiny the organization has long resisted, ProPublica reports.

If the bill, the American Red Cross Transparency Act, becomes law, it would amend the group's congressional charter to give the Government Accountability Office unfettered access to the Red Cross's records and personnel. Under the bill, GAO would have the power to obtain documents from the Red Cross related to its internal governance and disaster response programs and, if the organization were to resist such a request, to subpoena and take it to court if necessary. The bill also would empower the Red Cross's internal investigative unit — which a nearly year-long investigation by Grassley's staff found to be severely undersourced and underutilized — by putting it under the control of the organization's board instead of its general counsel.

The proposed legislation follows an eighteen-month inquiry by GAO which found that "no regular, independent evaluations are conducted of the impact or effectiveness of the Red Cross's disaster services." In 2014, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern sent a letter to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, who requested the inquiry, asking him to end the inquiry and, instead, to call her directly with any questions. McGovern later told Grassley's investigators that the Red Cross "gave [the GAO] everything that they asked for" — which Grassley's report, released in June, concluded was not the case.

Last September, Thompson introduced the American Red Cross Sunshine Act (9 pages, PDF) in the House, which would require regular audits of the organization's finances and its response to disasters by the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration, Homeland Security's inspector general, and USAID's inspector general.

A Red Cross spokesperson told ProPublica in a statement that the organization "will review the proposed legislation and make our views known to Congress at the appropriate time."