June 04, 2010

Is the BP Disaster a Wake-up Call for the Ombuds Field?

John Zinsser is a vigorous and thoughtful advocate for Organizational Ombuds, but he is no Pollyanna. He is currently concerned about the role of the Ombuds program at BP and how that will impact perceptions of the field by the public at large, the management/leadership communities and the politically powerful.

Zinsser summarizes the history of BP's Ombuds program and its relationship to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
1. BP Hired a retired formal Judge and a team that has been as large as 12 to receive complaints as Ombudsman....
2. Data available to the public suggests they have managed approximately 200 inbound cases per year. * * * No data is available for later years, even though BPs sustainability report, which annually mentions the Ombuds Program and names Sporkin each year, provides annual case load numbers for its “Open Talk” program. This data suggests case loads for “Open Talk” ranging between 825 in 2009 to over 1000 in 2006, while siting only “43″ cases for the Sporkin lead Ombudsman Office in its first year.
3. BP’s U.S. Office of the Ombudsman, as they call it, is potentially the most expensive Ombuds Program in the world. Especially when considered on a per case basis.
4. This office received a complaint regarding non-compliant behavior that could impact safety of deep water oil rigs operating in the gulf of Mexico. The source of this claim is terminated from BP.
5. The Office of the Ombudsman:
∙ Publicly acknowledges the complaint
∙ Declares the complaint substantiated
∙ Admits that they (Ombudsman) had knowledge of the issue PRIOR to the compliant
∙ Admits the issue exists AFTER the complaint, and the termination of the author of the complaint, and
∙ Accepts BP saying the issue is remedied with out any documentation.
Zinsser is very troubled by the implication that the BP Ombuds could have averted the disaster if it had been been properly structured and actually honored by BP executives. Furthermore, it is no consolation to Zinsser that the BP Ombuds program does not follow either the IOA or USOA standards of practice. 

He concludes that the Ombuds field will "remain a small, caring, dedicated profession, that is misunderstood, if thought of at all," if it "continues to allow the word ['Ombuds'] to describe an exceptionally broad range of structural and behavioral uses." (Conflict Benefit Blog.)

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