Grassley, Thompson Reintroduce American Red Cross Transparency Act
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi today introduced legislation to give the congressional watchdog arm complete access to American Red Cross records for oversight purposes. The bipartisan, bicameral American Red Cross Transparency Act of 2019 responds to concerns that the Red Cross tried to quash a review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of its practices, successfully limiting the scope of the review, and has failed to be as transparent as it should be.
“The American people rely on the Red Cross to respond when tragedy strikes. It is congressionally-chartered and is a federal instrumentality. It receives federal tax dollars for some of its disaster responses, and it receives the financial benefits of tax exemption and tax-deductible donations. For those reasons, Congress has a responsibility to make sure the Red Cross answers questions asked on the public’s behalf and is operating up to the standards required of it during national disasters,” Grassley said. “The Red Cross has shown an unwillingness to answer questions in the past. This legislation strengthens transparency to help make the Red Cross more accountable to the public.”
“The Red Cross has been a component of disaster response for decades, but that does not put them above Congressional oversight. The public should know how the Red Cross spends both taxpayer dollars and the funds Americans generously donate. With Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Harvey and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, we have seen the Red Cross struggle to fulfill its disaster response mission,” Thompson said. “As the demands on our disaster response systems have intensified, and with the frequency and intensity of natural disasters having increased, it is critical that the Red Cross is able to fulfill its mission and that Congress and the American public have a window of transparency into the organization. Our legislation will ensure that the Red Cross’ past attempts to scuttle necessary oversight won’t work again.”
The American Red Cross Transparency Act gives the GAO complete access to the Red Cross’ records when needed to conduct oversight. If the Red Cross refuses to comply, the legislation provides the GAO with the authority to bring an action in court to force compliance.
More than a decade ago, Congress gave the GAO the broad authority to “review [Red Cross’] involvement in any Federal program or activity the Government carries out under law.” Despite clear legislative intent, the Red Cross essentially stonewalled GAO when it tried to carry out an investigation requested by Thompson in September 2013. After two years of stall tactics, delays and a request from the Red Cross’ president that Thompson cancel his GAO request and conduct future oversight via cell phone, the GAO analyzed information the Red Cross begrudgingly made available to complete its investigation. Grassley explored the GAO access problem as part of his inquiry of problems with the Red Cross’ Haiti earthquake response. He sent the results as a memo to his fellow committee members on both the Judiciary and Finance committees in 2016.
The legislation is available here.