The American Red Cross has met its deadline to say how it spent almost half a billion dollars in Haiti. But the charity's answers have left at least one senator unsatisfied.
"I have a lot more questions for the Red Cross," Sen. Chuck Grassley says in a statement after reviewing the responses. "I have other questions about the spending numbers and how they add up and the overhead costs for both the Red Cross and the grantee organizations."
Those questions go to the heart of what Grassley, R-Iowa, and other members of Congress have attempted to elicit from the charity for the past month. Grassley asked the Red Cross to explain, among other things, how much money it gave to each partner, what its overhead costs were and what it was able to accomplish with the money.
In its response, the Red Cross said it could give Grassley most of the information about its grants, but in some cases would need to get permission from the partners to disclose some of the details. The Red Cross said it was still working on that. And, for all the partners, the Red Cross asked Grassley's office not to give the information out to the media or donors.
The Red Cross wrote: "Please note that our contracts with the great majority of our partners, while permitting us to disclose this information to Congress, do not permit us to disclose the information to the media or donors."
In his statement, Grassley asked the Red Cross to explain that reasoning.
"It's unclear why the Red Cross enters into contracts with other organizations stipulating that details of grants can't be disclosed to the media or donors," he says. "Who's driving the lack of disclosure, the Red Cross or the grant recipients? What's the rationale for it? It's hard to see how disclosing the dollar amounts given from the Red Cross to the individual organizations and how those organizations spent the money would harm anyone. I look forward to an explanation."
Knowing how much the Red Cross gave to its partners would provide some insight into how much the charity has spent on administrative, management and overhead costs — something the charity has so far declined to release.
Grassley sent Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern a list of 17 questions citing recent stories by NPR and ProPublica about the Red Cross' efforts in Haiti, which found a string of poorly managed projects and questionable spending.
In its other responses, the Red Cross defended its work in Haiti providing shelter to residents. Grassley asked how many permanent homes the Red Cross has built in the country. The charity did not answer specifically. It said, "providing permanent homes can be achieved in a number of ways including repair, retrofitting, rental subsidy, and transitional shelters." It is unclear why the Red Cross considers transitional shelters and other temporary sheltering options to be "permanent" homes.
McGovern has requested a meeting with Grassley and his staff to explain further. The senator's aides say it is not clear if or when that might happen.
The Red Cross did not immediately respond to requests for comment.