Our all-star team (seriously, they are the crème de la crème in the field) meticulously combed through existing literature, surveyed the field, conducted case studies, interviewed ombuds, stakeholders and constituents, and explored the legal issues to create a monumental (and rather heavy!) 600-page report. The report formed an empirical basis for ACUS’ new recommendation that aims to improve practice, drive policy, build theory, and ensure the success of the field. We’d like to thank Drs. Mary Rowe, Neil Katz, and Tim Hedeen, Deborah Katz, Lauren Marx, and our amazing crew of talented graduate and law students who worked tirelessly to help chiResolutions create the report and draft recommendation.
So what did we learn? In a nutshell, that ombuds are incredibly helpful and provide tremendous value. Our research revealed a wide range of tangible benefits of ombuds services, including reduction of legal costs, enhancement of employee morale and customer satisfaction, increased employee and customer engagement, improved products and/or services that ultimately advance the agency mission, and significant contributions to systemic changes in agency policy or procedure through effective handling of an “early warning” issue or serious dispute.
Here are some specifics for you folks that like details:
Externally-facing ombuds were more likely to report supporting their agency with specific mission-related initiatives; helping the agency to improve specific policies, procedures, or structures; making administrative decisions to resolve specific issues; providing support within the agency to keep its organizational processes coordinated; and advocating on behalf of individuals. In many ways, the external’s role is that of an agency ambassador who provides a bridge between the concerns of those outside of the government and the government itself. This is especially valuable in instances where the ombuds provides a voice for populations that would otherwise be ignored or have limited options. The overall impact is an increase in the public’s trust and approval in the federal government.
Internally-facing ombuds (and many externally facing ones as well) were more likely to report helping constituents by providing a safe way to discuss perceptions of unsafe or illegal behavior; promoting the use of fair and helpful options; helping to prevent problems by coaching one-on-one; and providing group training and briefings to constituents. As a result, morale and productivity increase, employees are more committed to the agency’s mission, and the overall work environment is more positive.
Whistleblower ombuds and procurement ombuds, consonant with their focus on more narrowly defined responsibilities, described their accomplishments as providing specific information and education, as well as guidance about very specific matters of concern to their constituents.
After studying the field for over a year and a half, we now have the empirical evidence to support what we’ve always known: federal ombuds are tremendous impartial assets, provide a strong return on investment per capita, and clearly help the government work better. ACUS’ final Recommendation, 2016-5, The Use of Ombuds in Federal Agencies, adopted December 14, 2016 (81 Fed. Reg. 94,316, Dec. 23, 2016) by the full Conference, is an explicit acknowledgement of the unique value ombuds provide to constituents both internal and external to the federal government. It is also a response to the exponential growth of a relatively unknown profession, and the critical need to define, standardize, and promote best practices.
We were delighted to be able to contribute to this very important and necessary strengthening of the profession.
The full Report was prepared under contract between chiResolutions, LLC and the Administrative Conference of the United States. It can be found online at https://www.acus.gov/research-projects/use-ombuds-federal-agencies.
Should you not have the time to peruse the 600 pages, we’ve got a couple of shorter articles for you elsewhere on this site as well as a link to a helpful Reader’s Guide to the Report and Recommendation prepared by one of our ombuddies, Wendy Kamenshine.