June 29, 2009

How to Become the Next Immigration Ombuds

Immigration Daily says that there are three informal requirements for anyone interested in a presidential appointment to the post of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman:
  1. Be a card-carrying Democrat for at least 5 or 10 years, preferably longer;
  2. Be active in participating in local/state Democratic party; and
  3. Be sponsored by one of the 3 members of their Congressional delegation.
The leading immigration publisher believes that several members of the immigration bar would qualify based on these criteria. The CIS Ombudsman position is co-equal with that of the USCIS Director and is empowered "to really shake things up for immigration benefits." (Immigration Daily.)

The CIS Ombuds position is not currently vacant and no job search has been announced yet. Immigration Daily may have better information.

Related posts: Immigration Ombuds Tenders Resignation; Immigration Ombuds Issues Annual Report; Job Posting (Deputy Director); Leading Immigration Lawyer Urges Obama to Retain USCIS Ombuds.

June 25, 2009

NPR Interviews New FOIA Ombuds

Bob Garfield interviewed Miriam Nisbet, Miriam Nisbet the new director of Office of Government Information Services, aka the FOIA Ombuds, for NPR's show On the Media. Nisbet said that if her office could not resolve FOIA disputes informally through mediation, it would issue an advisory opinion, "that certainly would be part of the administrative record going to court if the case did go to court." In addition, her office will make recommendations for ways to improve the FOIA process. (On the Media.)

Related post: FOIA Ombuds Appointed.

June 24, 2009

USOA 30th Annual Conference in Colorado

The United States Ombudsman Association has announced the details of its 2009 meeting in Estes Park, Colorado, "Navigating the Rocky Divide: Ombudsmen at the Summit." The conference on September 29-October 2 continues USOA's tradition of offering training focused on skills, as well as sessions on current Ombuds issues. Topics of particular interest to Organizational Ombuds include:
  • Know Thyself: Understanding and Utilizing Conflict Styles presented by Mary Chavez Rudolph, University of Colorado Denver, and Tom Sebok, University of Colorado at Boulder;
  • Conflict Resolution From the Trenches: Changing Our Institutions by Advancing Our Practice presented by Johnston Barkat, United Nations Ombudsman & Mediation Services; and
  • Distance Dispute Resolution: Traversing the Far Reaches presented by Frank Fowlie, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
Other sessions cover establishing a new office, outreach, effective Internet use, surviving budget cuts, and dealing with disaster. In addition to the main conference, USOA is offering a two-day New Ombudsman Training preconference workshop on September 28 and 29, and training CLEAR from its National Certified Investigator Training Specialized Program. (USOA Conference Packet.)

Related posts: USOA's 28th Annual Conference [2007]; USOA Annual Conference in Lexington [2008].

Obama Correctly Pronouces "Ombudsman"

During Tuesday night's Press Conference, President Obama teased a member of the press corps who tried to follow up on a colleague's unanswered question. Obama asked Jake Tapper of ABC News: “Are you the ombudsman for the White House press corps?” Ombuds around the country walked a little taller the next day. (White House Press Office Transcript; LA Times; Hat tip: JZ.)

Related post: Obama and the Future of the ADR Profession; Federal Observers Hope for New Era of Government Openness and Accountability.

June 23, 2009

University of Texas Staff Set Ombuds as Top Priority

With the election of officers, the University of Texas Staff Council identified its top seven issues for the coming academic year. These priorities include reviewing the need for a staff Ombudsperson. The campus already has Ombuds for faculty and students. (Austin American-Statesman.)

Update: DC Mayor Blocks Transfer of Public Schools Ombuds Office

Washington DC Mayor Adrian Fenty has used his line-item veto power to prevent the District Council from transferring oversight of the Public Schools Ombuds from his office to the State Board of Education. The Council has 30 days to override the veto with nine votes. (Washington Examiner.) Meanwhile, Interim DCPS Ombudsman Jeff Ross reports that his office continues to handle nearly 50 new cases a month. (March 2009 Report.)

Prior posts: DC Schools Appoint First Ombuds; DC Schools Ombuds Lasts Just 14 Months; Local Politics Threaten DC Schools Ombuds; Washington Post Conflates Ombuds Reporting Line With Neutrality.

Job Posting: Kettering Health Network

The Dayton area medical network is accepting applications for a part time Patient Relations Representative: "An ombudsman type service in which the employee acts as the liaison between patients and the institution." The position receives, facilitates and mediated patient concerns and provides upward feedback to hospital departments. A bachelor's degree is required and two years experience in a health care related environment are preferred. No salary or closing date. (Kettering Health Network Jobs, req. no. 09-0420.)

Not a true Organizational Ombuds job, but close in many respects.

June 22, 2009

ADR Prof: Closing Ombuds Offices is Short Sighted and Undervalues ADR

Jill Gross, who blogs for the ADR Prof Blog and is director of the Investor Rights Clinic at Pace Law School, considers whether Ombuds offices are expendable:
I just learned that my University is closing its Ombuds Office, to save resources in these tight times, and instead is spreading out its functions among various related offices (student complaints to Dean of Students Office; employee disputes to Human Resources, etc.). It seems to me that this economically-driven decision clearly undervalues dispute resolution. While those related offices are generally familiar with the subject matter of complaints, they are not trained in or equipped to use informal dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve these disputes in a quick, cost-efficient manner. Doesn’t seem so cost-effective a decision, in the long run, does it?

ADR Prof Blog.)

Professor Gross is right on the money. The cost savings offered by Organizational Ombuds and other ADR programs is substantial. Unfortunately, only the costs are reflected in an organization's financial statement. The benefits--avoided litigation and improved climate--are hidden. The real mistake is assuming that other programs like HR, EEO, or EAP can fill in for an Ombuds. Although these programs may be familiar with the organization's culture, they cannot bring confidential, neutral, independent, and informal expertise to conflicts. Hopefully Ombuds programs will rebound with the economy and the growing acceptance of ADR.

Related post: Pace University Closing Ombuds Office.

June 18, 2009

UNESCO to Seek for International Ombuds for Higher Education

At a meeting in Bucharest last month, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's Forum on Higher Education called for an international Ombudsman to uphold the "principles and values" of higher education. The group's proposals, which include creating a global index of academic freedom, will be submitted for validation at Unesco's 2009 World Conference on Higher Education in Paris next month. According to the "Bucharest Message," the Ombuds would have a mandate to "resolve conflicts related to principles and values of higher education." According to The Times of London discussions at the meeting focused on the need for an Ombuds, rather than the details of how it would work. (Unesco Bucharest Message; Times Higher Education; Unesco 2009 World Conference on Higher Education.)

Related posts: Students Call for Global Ombuds; UNESCO Conflict Resolution Library.

June 17, 2009

Washington Post Conflates Ombuds Reporting Line With Neutrality

In its latest editorial on the political tug-of-war over the District of Columbia's public schools, the Washington Post has criticized plans to move the DCPS Ombuds Office from the mayor's jurisdiction to the school board.
The 2010 spending plan approved by the council gives the board a bigger budget and staff, as well as enhanced autonomy and independence. Significantly, the school ombudsman's office -- which is supposed to be a neutral, problem-solving mechanism for parents, students and staff -- would now report to the board.

When the council two years ago gave control of the schools to the mayor, it wisely sketched out a discrete role for the elected school board that did not involve it in day-to-day operations. But by having responsibility for the ombudsman, the state board would effectively have license to meddle in school matters, thus becoming a potential adversary of the mayor. (Washington Post Editorial.)

Unfortunately, the Post's Editorial Board mistakenly assumes that realignment of the DCPS Ombuds would change its function. As currently constituted, the DCPS Ombuds is a "neutral, informal, and independent resource" for school-related conflict resolution. Changing the reporting line does not change the mandate for the office. Nor would Board oversight mean that the Ombuds would acquire "license to meddle" or become an "adversary of the mayor." Moreover, either of the two reporting lines would be consistent with best practices for Organizational Ombuds, which indicate that Ombuds should report as high as possible and have access to all levels of an organization.

What is most important for the DCPS Ombuds Office is preservation of its mandate to be neutral, informal and independent. A worst-case outcome would be if the Ombuds program became tainted by perceptions of political alignment. The Washington Post's editorial only increases this risk.

Related post: Local Politics Threaten DC Schools Ombuds.

Job Posting(s): FDIC

On the eve of President Obama's decision to expand the jurisdiction of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the regulatory agency announced that it is hiring nine Senior Ombudsman Specialists for its offices in Irvine, Jacksonville and Dallas. The GS-13/14 positions are for renewable, two-year terms and will provide advice and guidance to customers with loans at failed institutions. The jobs pay $79,673 to $177,063 per year and require extensive travel. Applications are due June 29, 2009. (USA Jobs, Announcement Nos.: 2009-HQD-B1231 and 2009-HQD-B1232.)

Related posts: FDIC Ombuds Issues Biannual Report; FDIC Ombuds Reports Strong Growth in Visitor Traffic; FDIC Ombuds Creates Unit for Bank Customers.

June 15, 2009

Pace University Closing Ombuds Office

After nearly a dozen years, Pace University has decided to close its Ombuds Office effective June 18, 2009. For 11 years, the office was headed by John Barkat, who became the United Nations Ombudsman. Since his departure, Pat Barnes has been the Interim University Ombuds. William J. McGrath, the Chief Administrative Officer assured the campus that the important work of the Pace Ombuds Office would be continued through other resources, including employee relations, dean of students, and the affirmative action office. (Pace News.)

Related posts: Pace Ombuds Office Profiled; Barkat Appointed U.N. Ombuds; Pace University Appoints Interim Ombuds.

John W. Zinsser said...

The continuing trend of OO offfice being closed is troubling.

The letter offered to the PACE community by William J. McGrath is worth reading in its entirety. (It is available here.)

The letter positions the Chief Administrative Officer of this University as seeing both the process and contribution of the OO as obtainable by via other mechanisms. That is, the ombuds office had no unique contribution nor defining value proposition - at least as far as this letter goes.

Anyone knowing John Barkat can be absolutely certain that no stone was left unturned to make clear to Pace the difference between processes deployed by the OO and other functions. Yet, today, the administration of this University is unable to say the Ombuds Office's processes or outcomes are defensible and valuable in the current climate.

Unfortunately this is not a unique event. Offices are being closed, with increasing frequency - including programs of "historical significance" (CalTech), and those formerly led by some of the very finest practitioners (Pace).

In spite of these "signs on the wall," most programs are not prepared to make a compelling argument as to WHAT they offer their institutions so as to be essential and a "must have."

I ask you to think carefully, not just about how you do your work, but, about what makes you of need to your institution?

What distinguishes you?

What is your unique proposition? Both in terms of process and outcomes what will make those who contribute to, grant to you, your authorizing environment, say "We HAVE to have the ombuds!"

Respectfully, and with best wishes for the people of Pace, who as of the close of this program, will be without something unique, useful, and valuable - whether they know it or not.

June 11, 2009

COFO Sets Conference Agenda

The Coalition of Federal Ombudsmen has announced it will hold its annual meeting on June 24, 2009, with the theme, “Federal Ombudsmen in the 21st Century.” At the conference, members will select the next COFO Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary, and Coordinator. There will also be discussions on amending the COFO charter, outreach to new Ombuds programs, and an update on changes in the Freedom of Information Act. In addition to Federal Ombuds as speakers, the group has invited a USOA representative to give an address. (COFO Meeting Minutes, 5/13/09.)

Related posts: Federal Ombuds Annual Conference on June 11 (2007); Federal Ombuds Publish Unified Model for Developing an Office.

June 10, 2009

Update: FOIA Ombuds Appointed

The National Archives and Records Administration has appointed Miriam Nisbet as the director of the new Office of Government Information Services. The position has dubbed by many open government advocates, the Freedom of Information Act Ombuds. Since 2007, Nisbet has headed the Information Society Division of UNESCO. As an attorney, Nisbet served as Legislative Counsel at the American Library Association from 1999 to 2007 and also worked at NARA from 1993 to 1999 where she first occupied the post of Special Assistant to the Archivist of the US and then Special Counsel for Information Policy. Rick Blum, the director of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, praised the appointment. (OMB Watch; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Blog; UNESCO Bio.)

Prior posts: House Panel Approves Bill That Would Create Federal FOIA Ombuds; Are Ombuds the Solution to FOIA Disputes?; Bill to Create FOIA Ombuds Goes to President; Bush Defunds FOIA Ombuds Program; Federal FOIA Ombuds Office Remains in Limbo; Media Coalition Calls on Obama to Revive FOIA Ombuds Office; Job Posting: National Archives Hiring FOIA Ombuds.

Working Happily With Colleagues

Gretchen Rubin, another reformed attorney, offers eight tips for working more happily with colleagues:
  1. Having strong friendships makes work more fun; but,
  2. Avoid situations that might create temptation;
  3. Take time to mix with other people;
  4. Each week, walk around your office and talk to a few people you don’t know well;
  5. Identify what gets under your skin;
  6. There is only love;
  7. Say “Good morning” to everyone; and
  8. Cut people slack.
Perhaps useful, general advice for Ombuds to provide. (The Happiness Project.)

June 08, 2009

Unviersity of Houston-Downtown Selects New Ombuds

According to a recently published report, Michael Dressman, PhD, was appointed in January 2009 as the university's new faculty and staff Ombuds. A formal announcement by the Provost has been pending for several months. Dressman is Professor of English at UHD and the former dean of Humanities and Social Sciences. He received his doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has published on topics in American literature and the history of the English language. (UHD Faculty Senate Report; Faculty Bio.)

Job Posting: Federal Bureau of Investigation

The FBI is hiring an Associate Organizational Ombudsman for its Washington, DC, office. The position is open only to current FBI employees who are US citizens and able to obtain a top secret clearance. The GS 14 position pays $102,721 to $133,543 per year. Applications are due by Friday, June 19, 2009. (FederalGovernmentJobs, Vacancy No. 00-2009-0024.)

KeySpan Ombuds to Speak at CPA Conference

Kenny Moore, Director of HR and Corporate Ombuds for KeySpan Corporation, will speak at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants National Not-for-Profit Industry Conference on June 11, 2009, in Washington, DC. Moore will take a closer look at leadership, change management and employee motivation, exploring the changing role of leadership in a turbulent and unforgiving business environment. (AICPA Conf. Info.)

Related posts: Profile of National Grid Ombuds; KeySpan Ombuds to Keynote National HR Conference.

Job Posting: Ontario Ombuds

The Ombudsman of Ontario is accepting applications for the position of Early Resolutions Officer. Applicants must have post secondary education in the social sciences or in a related field and demonstrated recent experience in providing intake, complaint handling and resolutions services along with referral information in an Ombuds or similar type organization. This is a unionized position that pays $58,479 CDN per year. Applications are due by June 30, 2009. (Ombudsman Ontario.)

Although I do not usually post Classical Ombuds jobs, this is a rare opportunity to work with one of the profession's leading offices.

Related posts: Ontario Ombuds Office Averts Strike; FCO President Will Not Stand for Reelection.

Angola Marks Ombuds Bicentennial

In Luanda, the staff of the country's Ombuds’s office was joined by magistrates, MPs, government and diplomatic body officials, and students in the National Assembly to mark the 200th anniversary of the creation of the role of modern ombudsman in Sweden. The ceremony, organized by the Angolan Ombuds office, included staging of theatrical plays portraying various scenarios of the role of the Ombuds’ office. (Agencia AngolaPress.)

June 07, 2009

Margo Wesley to Retire

Margo Wesley, who directs the Staff Ombuds Office at the University of California, Berkeley, has announced she will retire at the end of the month. Wesley served in the Berkeley Ombuds Office for 12 years and was President of the University and College Ombuds Association at the time of the merger that formed IOA. She is a current IOA Board member and has worked on many UCOA and IOA committees. Her publications include “The Compleat Ombuds: A Spectrum of Resolution Services.” She earned her Doctorate in poetry from Graduate Theological Union in 2003. (IOA speaker Bio 2009; GTU 2003 Grads.)

Related posts: Notes on the IOA Annual Conference (2007); UC Berkeley Ombuds Issues Biennial Report.

Update: House Approves Bill Creating Ombuds for TSA Air Marshal

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved the Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act of 2009. Among other things, H.R. 2200 will establish in the Federal Air Marshal Service an Office of the Ombudsman. The legislation now goes on to be voted on in the Senate. (GovTrack, HR 2200.)

Prior post: House Bill Would Establish Ombuds for Federal Air Marshals.

House Bill Would Create Ombuds for Community Banks

Representative Dennis Cardoza, (D-18th Cal) has introduced legislation to strengthen the 7,500 community banks in the U.S. The Administrative Support and Oversight for Community Financial Institutions Act of 2009 would establish an Assistant Secretary for Community Financial Institutions at the Treasury. The second purpose of the bill would be creation of an Ombudsman Office for Community Financial Institutions at the Treasury which would have the mandate of assisting smaller banks navigate federal programs. The bill has been referred to the Committee on House Financial Services for hearings. (GovTrack, H.R. 2676.)

OO Blogger: Consultant Ombuds Should Update Billing Practices

Clayton Gilman, who writes the Organizational Ombudsman Blog and also works as a business consultant, believes that independent Ombuds should adopt new billing tactics in light of the current economic climate. “So, your choice, continue to bill… give net terms and hope to get paid or change your ‘habits’ to up front advance fees and/or escrow procedures. These times require that we adapt to survive.” For example, Gilman now offers 30 minute phone consultations as a minimum consultation, rather than his prior half day rate. He believes this has attracted new clients who will become long term “commitments.” (The Organizational Ombudsman Blog.)

June 04, 2009

Interview With Ombuds for Leiden University

Professor Tineke Willemsen was recently reappointed to a three-year term as Ombudsperson for oldest university in the Netherlands. Before becoming the Ombuds for a student body of nearly 18,000, Willemsen was Professor of Employment and Organizational Psychology at the University of Tilburg. She holds office hours two days a week in the Leiden University student center, although most complaints come by email.

Willemsen is generally able to resolve a complaint within a month. She starts by consulting the regulations relating to the department in question, or by contacting the department directly. Most cases relate to the administrative service provided by staff of faculties or central services, but there are also complaints about academic matters as well. Willemsen says most of her cases involve mediation, but "There is far less direct mediation where both parties are present than I had expected." Willemsen also indicates that complaints are increasingly being submitted by parents and by international students, which is consistent with trends in other European countries. (
Universiteit Leiden News.)

Related posts: European Network for Ombudsmen in Higher Education Latest Newsletter; British Classical Ombudsman Reports Spike in University Complaints.

ACR Revives Certification Efforts

After a member survey indicated continued support for mediator certification, the Association for Conflict Resolution has revived its Certification Task Force. As presently envisioned, ACR's mediation scheme is based on three criteria:
  • Reliability, involving not only requirements for experience and training but also assessments of knowledge and performance-based skills;
  • Accountability, which requires Standards and a Code of Ethics, specific to the areas of expertise with a credible grievance procedure; and
  • Inclusivity, requiring that it be available and achievable by diverse demographic groups, and that it be model-neutral.
The first two criteria differ significantly from the certification program recently introduced by Mediate.com, which does not attempt to asses mediators' skills or have a grievance procedure. Both organizations indicate that certification would not be obtainable by entry- or mid-level practitioners. (ACR Update.)

Mediator and blogger Diane Levin is concerned about the proposal for a performance-based assessment. She wonders how ACR will ensure that assessments are free from bias and based on objective criteria not subjective observations, especially in light of studies finding discrimination against female mediators. She says that, "ACR must be prepared to explain what steps it can take to reassure women, and minorities, too, that the process will indeed achieve not thwart inclusiveness." (Mediation Channel.)

Related post: Mediate.com Unveils Certification Program.

Rules for Mismanaging Workplace Conflict

A new blog about business conflict by mediator F. Peter Phillips reprints his article from HR Magazine that lists ten surefire ways to make sure your dispute management program an utter disaster:
  • No. 10: Leave Disputes To the Employment Lawyers
  • No. 9: Just Impose Mandatory Arbitration
  • No. 8: Copy Someone Else’s Program
  • No. 7: Don’t Bother The ‘C-Suites’
  • No. 6: Ignore Junior Managers
  • No. 5: Don’t Ask Employees—Tell ’Em!
  • No. 4: Don’t Measure
  • No. 3: Don’t Waste Money on Training
  • No. 2: Once You’ve Done It, Just Run It
  • No. 1: Class Actions? Who, Me?
Phillips explains that an effective conflict management program is based on a three-stage model. In the first stage, management-level devices provide employees with safe ways to voice concerns. In the second stage, mediation is used to permit employees and employers to articulate their interests and seek ways to resolve their disputes with the aid of a skilled and neutral third party. The third stage is an adjudicatory process—either arbitration or litigation—in which an arbitrator or a jury renders a decision. (Business Conflict Blog.)

Phillips says that Ombuds are part of the first stage, but I would argue that they are an essential resource for disputes that have advanced to the second stage also.

June 02, 2009

Job Posting: Department of Interior

The Office of Collaborative Action and Dispute Resolution is hiring two GS 11/12 specialists to assist in leading Department-wide implementation of DOI’s integrated conflict management system known as CORE PLUS (see BLM and FWS CORE PLUS offices). The incumbents will manage the DOI roster of inhouse neutrals, and perform the functions of a CORE PLUS Coordinator, trainer and mediator. Applicants must have a doctoral degree or qualifying specialized experience, which includes work as an Ombuds. The positions are located in Washington, DC, and pay $60,989.00 to $95,026 per year. Applications are due by June 22, 2009. (FederalGovernmentJobs, Announcement Nos.: OS-CD-09-MM258551 (DEU) and OS-CD-09-MM258552 (MP).)

June 01, 2009

Outreach Efforts Pay Off for UC Riverside Ombuds

In a brief summary covering her first 18 months as the University of California Riverside Ombuds, Indu Sen reports a dramatic increase in her caseload. Comparing the first and second nine month periods (10/07 to 7/08 and 8/08 to 5/09), Sen observed a 41% jump in visitors with concerns, complaints, and need for assistance. She attributed the increase to outreach efforts, including regular presentations at orientations, lunch discussion groups, presentations at faculty retreats, teaching and training in conflict resolution, an upgraded website, and new informational materials. In addition, Sen articulates how the values of her office coincide with the the long-term goals of the University. (UCR Ombuds 2009 Report.)

Related posts: UC Riverside Ombuds Expands Extern/Intern Program; UC Riverside Enacts Ombuds Charter.