March 27, 2015

Chronicle of Philanthropy and Sen. Grassley Apparently Misunderstand the Red Cross Ombuds Program

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that Sen. Charles Grassley, who led legislative efforts reform the American Red Cross in 2007, has launched an inquiry into the work of the Red Cross Corporate Ombudsman Office.

Although the reporter briefly quotes Kevin Jessar, the Red Cross Ombuds, along with Jennifer Moumneh (UC Irvine) and John Zinsser (Pacifica Human Communications), to explain the role of Organizational Ombuds, the article nonetheless concludes that Ombuds are not well understood. The article then gives more than equal time to critics who say that Organizational Ombuds programs are “inherently flawed.” (Chronicle of Philanthropy.)

This article concerns me for a few reasons. Despite the fact that the Red Cross Ombuds office was established and practices consistent with IOA standards, the article paints Ombuds as simply a risk prevention mechanism, while ignoring the formal mechanisms for Red Cross whistleblowers. (The article could easily, but does not, cite any of the studies showing that whistleblowers are often unhappy with the formal complaint process.) I also suspect that the quotes from Jessar, Moumneh, and Zinsser were taken out of context or abbreviated to fit the reporter’s narrative. Finally, the fact that Sen. Grassley--a potent political figure--misunderstands the fundamental role of an Organizational Ombuds is perhaps the most concerning thing.

Related posts: CDC to Make Ombuds Permanent  CDC Ombuds Become Focus of Sen. Grassley's IreAtlanta Journal-Constitution Proposes Solution for CDC Ombuds and Sen. GrassleyCDC Ombuds Issue Memo to EmployeesCDC's Workforce Director Offers Perspective, Cites IOA StandardsCongress Shuts Down CDC Ombuds OfficeSen. Grassley Endorses Red Cross OmbudsBush Signs Legislation Creating Red Cross OmbudsRed Cross Head Responds to Criticism Over Appointment of OmbudsFirst Red Cross Ombuds Promises to Strengthen "Sacred Trust" With PublicRed Cross Ombuds Unveils VideoRed Cross Ombuds Publishes Inaugural Report and Announces Cut-BacksNew Ombuds at American Red CrossAmerican Red Cross Appoints Deputy Ombuds; Harvard Law Students Assist Red Cross Ombuds Office With Strategic Research; Red Cross Issues Second Annual Report.


  1. It seems to me that Sen. Grassley has been confused as to the functions and purposes of organizational ombudsman since the beginning. Even though he pushed for an oversight mechanism that ultimately created the ombuds office, I wonder if he was under the wrong impression of the nature of organizational ombudsman. I'd imagine that an office of classical ombudsman might better serve his objectives of oversight and making recommendations.

  2. It may be helpful for IOA to reach out to Senator Grassley. Here is the contact information for his communications team:

    Beth Pellett Levine
    Communications Director for Chairman Grassley on the Senate Committee on the Judiciary
    Press Secretary for Senator Chuck Grassley
    (202) 224-6197

    Taylor Foy
    Press Secretary for Chairman Grassley on the Senate Committee on the Judiciary
    (202) 224-6708

    Jill Gerber
    Communications Manager and Senior Writer
    (202) 224-6522

    Kristine Ahlfield
    Deputy Press Secretary
    (202) 224-0484