Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is lambasting the American Red Cross for a host of alleged problem areas — from blatant waste during disaster relief efforts to questionable moves by the agency’s board of directors. Grassley heard from an Adel woman who volunteered for the Red Cross after the hurricanes hit New Orleans last fall who witnessed thousands of meals being thrown out daily and who says her suggestions to cut costs and cut waste were ignored. Grassley says that’s a poor way to run a charity.

Grassley says “When they have people that are devoted volunteers and they blow the whistle on wrongdoings, the Red Cross oughta’ do something about it, but so many of these whistleblowers, like the lady in Adel, are being seen as a skunk at a picnic, not welcome.” Grassley says the Red Cross is known to all Americans as the main organization that responds to disasters and the public needs full confidence in the Red Cross. But, he says, certain incidents have shaken that confidence.

Grassley says “When an organization can’t face criticism, when they’re more concerned about their public relations than about just doing their job, something’s wrong. It’s kind of a culture that I see representative of a lot of government bureaucracies that’s a problem here.” Grassley started to scrutinize the Red Cross in the months following the Nine Eleven terrorist attacks when questions were raised about how the organization was using donations to assist with recovery efforts.

Grassley, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says the Red Cross’ governance is lacking in key areas and needs better organization. He says “They fired the last president based upon the actions of five out of 50 board members. Now, what sort of a board do you have when five members can make a decision on firing a president? There’s not even any written record of their actions. No minutes on it. Nothing.”

Grassley suggests the Red Cross follow the example of the environmental group, the Nature Conservancy, which recently slashed its controlling board from 47 members to 18. He says 50 board members is just too big.

An official with the American Red Cross in Iowa disputes some complaints leveled by one of the agency’s own volunteers. Megan Chamberlain, the Central Iowa chapter’s response director, says volunteer Christee Lesch of Adel is right about one thing — there was food wasted during the initial phase of last fall’s recovery efforts following the Gulf Coast hurricanes.

Chamberlain says “It’s definitely not something that happens on a normal basis. You have to remember the magnitude of the disaster we were dealing with at this time and the mass chaos that was going on. It was very early in the disaster. We had our director of preparedness and safety and several other volunteers who happened to be on the same site as (Lesch) who actually cite very different things happening at that particular site that day.”

As was reported earlier today in a Radio Iowa interview, Lesch says 20-thousand meals were thrown out at the end of her first day in New Orleans. Lesch says another 150-thousand dollars worth of food was dumped on the second day. Lesch claims her complaints to her superiors were ignored, along with her suggestions to cut costs. Chamberlain says that’s not true, but adds, it should all be taken in the context of the major disaster.

Chamberlain says “There was a waste of food. We acknowledge that, however, the ordering process, if we wouldn’t have had enough, we wouldn’t have been able to feed everybody. Most of the time we can give it out to other areas but every area was devastated at that time and there was no other place for the food to go.”

Chamberlain says Lesch’s complaints were sent up the chain of command and were -not- disregarded. Chamberlain says “We learn from every disaster, every disaster’s a little bit different. We have had many meetings that the volunteers and paid staff have come in, especially in the leadership areas, and given us feedback as to what went well, what we could’ve been done differently. There’s no way that it’s falling on deaf ears.” Chamberlain says the Red Cross is cooperating fully with Senator Grassley’s requests for information.