How badly managed is the Red Cross?

Back in July I wrote a piece which questioned how effectively the Red Cross was spending the massive amounts of money which generous donors send to them to perform their missions of mercy. The answer, unfortunately turned out to be that it’s a trade secret. Still, even with disturbing questions like that hanging over it, I found it difficult to be too critical of an organization which so diligently shows up to provide relief to the needy, particularly in times of crisis. But a new, extensive report from Pro Publica has raised disturbing questions about not only inefficiency in the management of the organization, but in their motives and methods to keep the public in the dark.

I caught wind of this story at Bloomberg, where Barry Ritholtz compiles a list of sins which go beyond simply failing to pack enough batteries for the flashlights.

• Despite plenty of advance warning of Sandy, the Red Cross lacked basics such as food, blankets and batteries to distribute to victims after the storm.

• Red Cross workers weren’t provided with the usual GPS devices. Many got lost driving around the New York area and were unable to deliver aid and supplies.

• As many as half of the emergency meals prepared for Sandy victims were wasted or never delivered.

• The Red Cross failed to deliver food, water, shelter, cleaning supplies, blankets to survivors of Sandy until weeks after the storm. Mormon and Amish volunteers, on the other hand, were delivering supplies just three days after the storm.

• Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of empty trucks to be driven around, “just to be seen,” in lieu of delivering relief supplies.

The last item on the list – along with similar, shocking events in the report – speak of a media diversion tactic, not just poor logistical management. There is a difference between making a mistake, being bad at your job, and spending time and resources to try to hide exactly how badly you are doing from the public. The coverage of the activities of the Red Cross in recent years seems to document a slow progression between those three stages of #fail, as the kids like to say.

Last year I was down in Tennessee covering the VW auto workers union debate and happened to speak with a person who told me that they never donated blood any more during the company Red Cross blood drives. The reason given was that they just stockpile it and sell it all, so it’s not like poor people in accidents are getting it for free. I wrote that woman off as some sort of conspiracy theorist and went on my merry way. But the more stories like this I saw, the more I began to wonder if I was writing her off too quickly.

And then I saw this. We should never assume that anyone is beyond scrutiny, no matter how much of a charitable icon they may be.