- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

America's charitable giving in response to the September 11 attacks is acting as a salve to the grief and outrage generated by terrorists' willful destruction of life. But given the level of donations, which have topped $1 billion, some Americans have become wary of any misuse of funds. Under this backdrop, the ouster of Dr. Bernadine Healy, the president and CEO of the American Red Cross the charitable organization at the forefront of relief efforts has caused confusion and heightened concern.

Dr. Healy became only the second medical doctor to head the American Red Cross after she took over in September 1999 to succeed Elizabeth Dole. Dr. Healy and the American Red Cross board have given differing accounts over the circumstances of what was surely a forced resignation. But, apparently, Dr. Healy rankled the board by, among other things, doing something that seemed quite reasonable creating a separate Liberty Fund to cover relief efforts directly related to September 11. The American Red Cross has recently said it is closing the fund, which holds about $547 million, because it has already collected sufficient donations. Disbursements, however, remain questionable.

In creating the Liberty Fund, Dr. Healy demonstrated a proactive approach to legitimate concerns regarding the use of contributions that emerged in wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. A number of families directly affected by the terrorist attack said they received letters that had been opened and forwarded to them by the American Red Cross, minus the check or cash the letter writers said was included. Although an investigation by Oklahoma City's U.S. attorney found no misuse of funds by the American Red Cross, some bitterness has lingered.

But Dr. Healy has also been criticized about the slow disbursement of money from the Liberty Fund to the families affected by the September 11 attacks. As of Oct. 29, the Red Cross had spent only about $140 million on relief related to September 11, with just $43.8 million disbursed directly to 2,296 families of the victims of the attacks. And Dr. Healy refused to go along with a coordinated effort led by the New York State attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, to keep track of how much money was being given to each family a plan other charities that are collecting money for terror victims had agreed to.

On Tuesday, American Red Cross acting CEO Harold Decker said he would be working with Mr. Spitzer and other relief agencies "to reduce duplication, fill any voids and tap the full range of experiences and talents that all of these parties bring." The organization also said Tuesday that it had hired KPMG to audit the Liberty Fund and would make results of the audit public later this year.

The American Red Cross' recent measures to bolster financial disclosure might go far toward alleviating doubts raised by Dr. Healy's clandestine removal. But potential recipients are still waiting for the Red Cross to show them the money.

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