American Red Cross President Marsha Evans announced her resignation because of friction with the board of governors, shortly before witnesses and lawmakers at a congressional hearing assailed the charity's response to Hurricane Katrina.
Red Cross spokesman Charles Connor said on Tuesday that the board was not unhappy with Evans' handling of the hurricane crisis, "but had concerns about her management approach and coordination and communication with the board."
It was the second time in three years that such feuding led to a leadership change after a national disaster.
At the hearing in Washington, lawmakers said the Red Cross' uneven response to Katrina calls for major changes in how the charity coordinates with local groups, handles its finances and distributes aid to the disabled. A Louisiana congressman even suggested the possibility of stripping the Red Cross of its dominant role in major relief campaigns.
Jack McGuire, executive vice president of the charity's Biomedical Services, was named to serve as interim president while a search for Evans' permanent successor is conducted.
A former Navy rear admiral who previously ran the Girl Scouts of the USA, Evans took over at the Red Cross in August 2002 as the organization was shaking off criticism of how it handled some donations sent in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Evans's predecessor, Bernadine Healy, said she was forced to resign partly because of disagreements with the board over whether money coming in after Sept. 11 should be placed in a separate fund or a general disaster fund. Some donors were upset that US$200 million was set aside for future terrorist incidents.
Healy, now a health columnist with US News & World Report, said in a telephone interview that her departure and Evans' removal reflected serious problems in how the 50-member Red Cross board addresses its internal conflicts and clashes with its top executives.
"You can't have 50 people making decisions," Healy said.
"The Red Cross is a public treasure that belongs to America and must serve America. Until these governance problems can be sorted out, it won't be able to do so effectively," she said.
She said that the Red Cross is chartered by Congress and the US president is its honorary chairman.
"The only people who can fix it are at that level," she said.
After the Sept. 11 donation dispute, the Red Cross promised greater accountability. But the unprecedented challenges posed by this year's hurricanes raised new problems.
Critics said the Red Cross failed to respond quickly enough in some low-income, minority areas; others faulted it for balking at cooperation with grass-roots organizations even as it collected the bulk of hurricane relief funds -- more than US$1.8 billion to date.
On the positive side, the group mobilized roughly 220,000 volunteers in response to the hurricanes, accommodated hun-dreds of thousands of evacuees in shelters and provided financial aid to about 1.2 million families and individuals.
Evans, 58, acknowledged in September that the organization's response to Katrina and Hurricane Rita had been uneven, saying the destructive power of the storms "eclipsed even our direst, worst-case scenarios."
In recent weeks, the organization has vowed to address some of the criticisms by seeking greater diversity within its ranks and establishing partnerships with local groups.