December 28, 2007

New Federal Ethics Rules May Lead to More Private Sector Ombuds

The Federal Acquisition Regulation was recently amended to require contractors to meet specific ethics and compliance-oriented requirements, including: a written contractor code of business ethics and conduct; and the display of Fraud Hotline posters as required by the Office of the Inspector General. Jackson Lewis, a national law firm that represents and counsels management, says that government contractors should determine an ombudsman can provide a resource for employees to report concerns of workplace misconduct including compliance issues and illegal activity. The requirements became effective on December 24, 2007. (Jackson Lewis Legal Updates; Federal Register FAR 2006-007.)

December 27, 2007

Job Posting: UC Riverside

The University of California at Riverside is accepting applications for an ombudsperson. This director-level position serves as the dispute resolution expert for faculty, students and staff. Minimum requirements include a graduate or professional degree and/or related experience, membership (or ability to become a member) of IOA, and a background check. No salary posted. Priority deadline is January 13, 2008. (UCR HR.)

UC Riverside is the most diverse UC campus and has plans to open a medical school, law school and school of public policy in the next few years. This ombuds office thus has the potential to expand significantly is size.

Related posts: Musical Chairs at the University of California; Former UC Ombuds Heads to Iran; New Interim Ombuds at UC Riverside.

US Olympic Ombuds Helps Athletes in Conflict

Since 1999, John Ruger has been the athlete ombudsman for the United States Olympic Committee. He receives about 500 inquires a year and provides independent advice to Olympic hopefuls, assists in mediating disputes, and helps develop USOC policy. The majority of athletes coming to Ruger have questions about a team-selection process, doping cases or their rights regarding endorsements. He was quoted prominently in two articles on Boxing Day. (New York Times; Washington Post.)

December 19, 2007

More Ombuds Offices

Seven more ombuds offices have been added to the directory. Here are the links:

Bill to Create FOIA Ombuds Goes to President

Congress has sent President Bush legislation revamping the Freedom of Information Act. Among other provisions, it would establish an ombuds-type position to provide an alternative to litigation in disclosure disputes. If the President does not sign the bill, it would become law during the congressional recess that begins next week. (S. 2488 History; Associated Press; ACLU Statement; Society of Professional Journalists Statement.)

Despite what is being widely reported, it should be noted that the bill does not use the term "ombudsman." According to a summary by the legislative analysts at the Library of Congress, Section 10 of the bill will implement an office of Government Information Systems, with ombuds-like powers:

Establishes within the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) an Office of Government Information Services to: (1) review compliance with FOIA policies; (2) recommend policy changes to Congress and the President; and (3) offer mediation services between FOIA requesters and administrative agencies as a non-exclusive alternative to litigation. Authorizes the Office to issue advisory opinions if mediation has not resolved the dispute.

Requires each agency to designate a Chief FOIA Officer, who shall: (1) have responsibility for FOIA compliance; (2) monitor FOIA implementation; (3) recommend to the agency head adjustments to agency practices, policies, personnel, and funding to improve implementation of FOIA; and (4) facilitate public understanding of the purposes of FOIA's statutory exemptions. Requires agencies to designate at least one FOIA Public Liaison, who shall be appointed by the Chief FOIA Officer, to: (1) serve as an official to whom a FOIA requester can raise concerns about service from the FOIA Requester Center; and (2) be responsible for assisting in reducing delays, increasing transparency and understanding of the status of requests, and assisting in the resolution of disputes. (Congressional Research Service.)

December 17, 2007

Job Posting: U. Penn

The University of Pennsylvania is accepting applications for an Associate Ombudsman. The Penn Office of the Ombudsman is staffed by an Ombudsman, a tenured faculty member (part-time), and the Associate Ombudsman (full-time). A Master's Degree or more is required and four or more years of experience in conflict management, organizational change, or closely related experience. Higher education experience is preferred. No salary or closing date provided. (Jobs@Penn, ref. no. 071123475.)

Related posts: U Penn Ombuds Issues 3-Year Report; Microbiology Chair at U Penn Responds to Criticism of Ombuds Office.

December 13, 2007

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Decries Closure of CDC Ombuds Program

The editorial board of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution disagrees with decision to shutter the ombuds office at the Centers for Disease Control. The AJC acknowledged that there are legitimate concerns about morale at the agency, but said that Congress was "wrong to eliminate the office established to deal with it." The newspaper editors also speculated on what motivated the decision.
The agency's critics, including U.S. Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), said they did not believe the office was adequately addressing employee concerns.

More likely, Grassley and his colleagues are still angry that the temporary ombudsmen refused to brief him earlier in the year on what they are hearing from the CDC staff. The ombudsmen cited confidentiality concerns with what they thought Grassley was asking them to discuss. (AJC.)

Related posts: CDC to Make Ombuds Permanent; CDC Ombuds Become Focus of Sen. Grassley's Ire; Atlanta Journal-Constitution Proposes Solution for CDC Ombuds and Sen. Grassley; Congress Shuts Down CDC Ombuds Office.

December 12, 2007

Profile of U. Texas Ombuds for Students

Lauren Bloom, the student ombuds, at the University of Texas is the subject of an article in the campus newspaper. Bloom is a social work graduate student and successfully had the position's title changed from ombudsman to ombudsperson in 2005. She says that "It takes at least a full year to understand the system and develop skills and relationships with the administration." In addition to Bloom, UT employs up to three student ombuds assistants and one faculty ombuds. (Daily Texan.)

Bloom explained to me that her office sees about 1,100 visitors a year, not 11,000 as reported.

December 11, 2007

Ombuds at U. Iowa Reports Disrespect a Top Concern

Disrespectful behavior and bullying were among the top new concerns listed in an annual report from the University of Iowa's ombuds office. The report by University Ombudsperson Cynthia Joyce and Ombudsperson Craig Porter indicates the office received 280 visitors last year, a 9 percent increase from the year before. Of those, 30 percent were students, 47 percent were staff and 21 percent were faculty. For staff, job conflicts were a primary concern and academic concerns were a top issue for undergraduates. (Iowa Citizen Press-Citizen; UI Ombuds 2006-07 Report.)

Related post: Univeristy of Iowa Ombuds Profiled.

U. Hawaii Ombuds Office Co-Sponsors Program on Organizational Change

The Ombuds Office at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, is co-sponsoring a series of talks on organizational transformation with the University's Program on Conflict Resolution. The first event on January 8 will feature David Brubaker, an Assistant Professor of Organizational Studies at the Eastern Mennonite University Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. he has worked nationally and internationally on the issues of conflict resolution and organizational change, and has served as a workplace mediator, organizational consultant and leadership coach. Brubaker was a plenary speaker at IOA's 2007 annual conference. (UH News.)

December 07, 2007

Ten Things Attorneys Should Know About Ombuds

Gini Nelson's blog about science, ethics and spirit in conflict resolution, "Engaging Conflicts," is featuring a series of posts by yours truly. The topics include:
  1. Organizational Ombuds Are Different Than Classical Ombuds
  2. The ABA Has Endorsed Ombuds
  3. Ombuds Assert Their Communications are Privileged
  4. Ombuds Protect Their Independence
  5. Ombuds are Neutral and Impartial
  6. Ombuds Avoid Formal Processes
  7. Ombuds are Increasing in Number
  8. Ombuds Don’t Keep Records
  9. Ombuds Are Not Agents for Notice
  10. Ombuds Provide Upward Feedback
Check back for updated links as the series is posted.

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.

December 06, 2007

New Ombuds at St. Bonaventure

St. Bonaventure University has appointed Dr. Gary B. Ostrower as its new ombuds officer, replacing Bernard Brodsky who established the office in Fall 2005. Ostrower has authored three books on the history of international organizations, and has been a history professor at Alfred University. Ostrower earned his bachelor’s degree from Alfred University, and a master’s and a doctorate from the University of Rochester. Ostrower is also the ombuds for Alfred University. (SBU News.)

December 05, 2007

North Dakota State U. Considering Ombuds

A recent story in the Chronicle of Higher Education highlighting NDSU’s lack of women among tenured faculty has prompted the land grant university to reexamine a proposal for an ombuds office. Since at least 2004, the University Senate has discussed an ombuds program (based on UC Irvine's office) with no results. The senate now plans to survey the campus in January to find out what people think of adding an ombuds. (In-Forum News (Fargo); NDSU University Senate Minutes 11/14/05; Chronicle of Higher Ed.)

The outcome of the survey will surely depend on how the questions are written. Given that most people don't fully understand what an ombuds does, a survey with a less-than-complete explanation will be futile. More importantly, what if the survey reveals an urgent need by just a small share of the population? Must a majority feel frustrated before changes are adopted? Of course not. Alternative dispute and restorative justice programs should be implemented because leaders have vision and compassion. Whether the decision is based on a cost-benefit calculation or empathy for the disenfranchised few, NDSU's administration should not shirk its responsibility with a survey.

December 03, 2007

Job Posting: Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser -- which has a large, but dispersed ombuds program -- is accepting applications for a position at its medical center in Antioch, California. Health care experience is preferred. No closing date or salary indicated. (Kaiser Careers Job ID: DV.07017413, via HotJobs.)