New York Trading one tough job for another, Internal Revenue Service chief Mark Everson was selected Wednesday as the new president of the American Red Cross, taking over as the charity restructures itself after sharp criticism of its response to Hurricane Katrina.
The Red Cross had been led by an interim president, Jack McGuire, since December 2005, when Marsha Evans resigned because of friction with the charity's board of governors. Her resignation coincided with congressional hearings assailing the uneven performance of the Red Cross in Katrina's aftermath.
Everson, 52, who will assume the Red Cross post on May 29, has served as IRS commissioner since May 2003, overseeing stepped-up enforcement of tax evasion.
The announcement came as Congress considers legislation that would dramatically overhaul the way the Red Cross governs itself. The charity's current 50-member board would be cut by more than half, and the influence of presidentially appointed overseers would be curbed under the legislation, which the Red Cross helped draft and which is expected to win approval this spring.
The reforms are intended to ease recurring clashes between board members and Red Cross management, and to address complaints that the organization was sometimes too bureaucratic and unaccountable after Katrina and the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The senator who led the Red Cross hearings and spearheaded the reform bill, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, commended the selection of Everson because of his efforts as IRS chief to better regulate America's vast nonprofit, tax-exempt sector, including charities.
"His sense of accountability, his energy, and his respect for institutions while being reform-minded are all attributes the Red Cross needs," Grassley said. "The institution gathered some moss over the years, but it's working to change. It needs a leader to guide that change."
But the selection was questioned by Trent Stamp, head of a watchdog group called Charity Navigator, who has been critical of both the IRS and the Red Cross.
"This looks like a splashy move, designed to make regulators and investors happy," Stamp wrote in an online commentary. "But I'd be shocked if the volunteers and staff are celebrating right now that another high-profile outsider with no nonprofit management experience or Red Cross connection is being brought in."
The Red Cross was by far the biggest player in responding to Hurricane Katrina, raising $2 billion and mobilizing 235,000 volunteers, while helping hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Yet the 125-year-old charity was sharply criticized for responding too slowly in some low-income, minority areas, for over-reliance on inexperienced staff, and for reluctance to work closely with other nonprofits.