After calamities, people donate millions of dollars to the American Red Cross, believing it is uniquely equipped to provide prompt humanitarian aid. The latest evidence that their faith has been misplaced came this week in a report by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, about the charity’s poor response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Senate investigators found that the Red Cross spent about 25 percent of the $488 million raised for Haiti relief on administrative costs and fundraising. That is unusually high; the charity has previously said it typically sets aside about 9 percent of donations for administrative costs.
The report also criticized the organization for downsizing its ethics office, which acts as a watchdog, from 65 employees a decade ago to just three.
Grassley’s investigation began after a 2015 report by ProPublica and National Public Radio found that the Red Cross had managed to build only six permanent homes in what had been billed as one of its landmark reconstruction projects in Haiti.
It is understandable that the charity would set aside money for future crises, but it should be absolutely transparent with donors when it does so. It should also significantly beef up its oversight and accounting operations and provide detailed, timely information about how it spends and accounts for relief funding. Early this month, it took a step in the right direction by releasing a breakdown of the money it had spent on Haiti relief.
It would be unfortunate if Americans were hesitant to donate after the next disaster. The Red Cross should make every effort to win their confidence.