Stamp: You know that I was critical of your selection of your former Chief of Staff at the IRS as your new ombudsman at the IRS. This was not based on her credentials or reputation, but on the fact that you and she had a prior working relationship, and I find it hard to believe that anyone could believe that she was truly independent, even if this is merely more perception than reality. According to the International Ombudsman Association, one of the first rules for appointment of ombuds is that they be "unaligned." Are you making the claim that your new ombudsperson is "unaligned" or were you unaware of this best practice for ombudspersons or were you aware and thought it was unimportant?
Everson: I carefully considered the appointment before I made it. We had experience with a National Taxpayer Advocate at the IRS, which is not unlike the ombudsman at the Red Cross. For an ombudsman to be effective, the person must be independent and able to work collaboratively with pieces of the organization, because if people throw up their arms and don't cooperate either in the production of information or opening up to saying what's going on, you're going to end up with a series of reports that will be critical of the organization, but no progress will be made.
The new ombudsperson is a career attorney that worked at Justice and the IRS. She has absolute integrity. I was concerned upon taking this position that, as a leader can, I would be embracing or defensive of the organization. I trust her judgment implicitly because she has come to me before and told me things about the IRS that I needed to hear. If she comes to me and says there is a problem in XYZ unit, I will believe her and act on that. There won't be a dialogue or defensiveness on my part. I trust her integrity and ability to get something done. Time will tell.
Stamp: I don't think anyone's questioning her integrity. That's not my concern. Tom Kosakowski of the Ombuds Blog wrote after her appointment, "even if she practices to standards, she will surely be perceived as biased. Without the trust of stakeholders, her effectiveness is compromised from the start." Isn't that the bigger issue here, that employees will not feel protected enough to bring their concerns to the ombudsperson if they know she has been formally aligned with you? I'm not questioning that she'll bring things to you; you trust her. But why should employees bring issues to her, if they know that she's formally aligned with you?
Everson: I don't consider her to be aligned with me. She's signed on to do that job, to provide the independent advice. She's well aware from the structure we had at the IRS of her obligation to report up to Capitol Hill, and I think she'll fill that obligation well. And again, time will tell. I think she's an inclusive person who will build the relationships both within the Red Cross and externally that she should. I think she has great behaviors and will prove to be a strong appointment.
(Charity Navigator; via Trent Stamp's Take.)
Everson's statements are reassuring to the extent that he expects the ombuds (Beverly Ortega Babers) to be independent and professional. Better still, the Red Cross should follow the advice of the International Ombudsman Association and American Bar Association and create a definitive charter or terms of reference to ensure the Red Cross ombuds is not just independent, but confidential, neutral and informal as well.
(Prior posts Bush Signs Legislation Creating Red Cross Ombuds; Concern Over Appointment of Red Cross Ombuds; Red Cross Head Responds to Criticism Over Appointment of Ombuds.)