News and analysis
July 06, 2016

Bill Would Force Red Cross to Open Its Books to Greater Scrutiny

Drew Angerer, Getty Images

Sen. Charles Grassley has accused Red Cross chief executive Gail McGovern of trying to thwart a government audit.

Three weeks after publishing a report critical of the American Red Cross, Sen. Charles Grassley introduced a bill Wednesday that would grant the federal government clearer authority to access the charity’s records.

The "American Red Cross Transparency Act of 2016" would also require the charity’s-internal investigations unit to report directly to the board, instead of the general counsel, which would make it more independent.

The bill, S. 3128, is a direct response to what the senator has characterized as the charity’s refusal to cooperate with an audit by the Government Accountability Office about its disaster-response work.

The American Red Cross has a congressional charter that grants the head of the GAO authority to "review the corporation’s involvement in any federal program or activity the government carries out under law."

The charity asserted that the GAO could only access its records regarding decisions that directly involve federal funds or work it does in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to the report by Sen. Grassley, a Republican from Iowa. The senator has accused chief executive Gail McGovern of trying to thwart the GAO’s audit.

Government Rights

The new bill would make clear that the GAO has the right to access any American Red Cross information about internal governance and programs connected to "national preparedness," plus the right to interview any board member, employee, or volunteer.

Adding staff members to the internal-investigations unit is the only step that Board of Governors chair Bonnie McElveen-Hunter said the board would take in response to Sen. Grassley’s report, according to an interview with The Chronicle three weeks ago.

The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Sen. Grassley chairs.

A spokesperson for the American Red Cross said the nonprofit "will review the proposed legislation and make our views known to Congress at the appropriate time."

Send an email to Rebecca Koenig.