December 07, 2007

UPDATE: Congress Shuts Down CDC Ombuds Office

In response to long-running issues of poor morale and mistrust among employees, the Centers for Disease Control opened an ombuds office in October 2006. Just a year later, and before the CDC even had time to hire a permanent ombuds, Sen. Tom Coburn began efforts to defund the program. "My colleagues in Congress agreed with me that CDC doesn't need a morale-boosting CDC ombudsman that costs over $1,000 a day and over $2,500 per employee visit," Coburn said. "This money can be better spent."

Congressional scrutiny was the latest of problems for the CDC ombuds office. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
The CDC ombudsman's office has been controversial from the start. That's because of the agency's decision to initially hire two contractors from Carter Consulting to serve as temporary ombudsmen on a one-year, $259,000 contract.

The contracting firm drew immediate distrust from some CDC staff who questioned the contractors' independence because the Tucker firm is owned by Joseph Carter, who retired in 2004 after being a top management official in the CDC director's office.

According to the most recent available data, the CDC ombuds office received 169 visits in its first nine months of operation. (Atlanta Journal Constitution.)

So it seems that Dr. Coburn's message to his disgruntled colleagues (who are charged with protecting the nation's health and safety) is: Suck it up, we need every penny for war spending.

Prior post: Coburn Amendment Would Defund CDC Ombuds.


  1. $259,000 seems a heft salary for an ombudsman - too bad the CDC didn't try adjusting the salary to something more in line with national avaerages (for example checking the IOA's salary survey) rather than scrapping the program altogether...and eliminating an outlet for CDC employees to informally handle issues which need attention.

  2. Also, the cost per visit analysis is premature. The office is just a year old. It should have been given more time to become effective.

  3. I disagree with both of these comments.

    1. This is not "A" salary. This is the contract amount for the entire program: 2.4 people, travel, admin, records etc. If anything this amount was far too small for an organization the size and complexity of CDC.

    2. The program was poorly designed, deployed, and supported. That is why it is not performing and having the desired impact. Programs a year old can generate great value. They need though to be properly developed, staffed and supported.

    The big problem here, IMHO, is this program was developed with NO professional support. Rather, as is the case with most programs, it was built by people with out knowledge or experience with minimal and intermittent support from 'volunteers' who did have the requisite skills and knowledge, but not the time needed to help steer this organization to better behavior. This is unfortunately how most OO programs are created. It is an element of our field in desperate need of further professionalization. Fortunately most programs and their host organizations, come to better outcomes then CDC.

    Too bad though the damage, and it is considerable, to our field is done. We know have members of congress decrying the expense and inefficiency of Ombuds programs. That is a public relations nightmare for the concept. One that desperately need to be addressed. As does the issue of professionalization of the design and deployment phase of programs. Perhaps as we consider certification, it would be wise also to certify program designers, as the skills needed to properly create and deploy programs vary significantly from those required to be a quality OO.

  4. John-
    Thanks for your great comments. You make excellent points and share some critical information.

  5. For what it's worth, I like John's idea of certifying program designers to help properly create and deploy an Ombuds program. -Reese