The Ombud's Perspective - A Critical Analysis of the ABA 2004 Ombuds Standards - Dispute Resolution Journal - Vol. 60, No. 3
Kevin Jessar, J.D., Ph.D., has been an ombudsman at the National Institutes of Health since 2000. He handles individual and organizational cases, and is active in developing integrated conflict-management systems. These initiatives include designing and implementing “pre-nuptial” partnering agreements between scientists, mentoring agreements and peer resolution panels. Mr. Jessar is a member of The Ombudsman Association (TOA) and serves on its Curriculum Development Committee and the committee addressing the 2004 ABA Ombuds Standards. He is also an instructor for TOA on core ombuds principles and “best practices.” Prior to his work at NIH, Mr. Jessar designed and directed a nationwide mediation program for the National Archives, and before that he was an attorney at the Administrative Conference of the United States, a think tank responsible for implementing ADR in the federal sector.
Originally from Dispute Resolution Journal
Organizational ombuds are designated by employers so that staff at every level may seek informal, confidential assistance to work through problems without losing control over how their concerns will be addressed.1 The ombuds is typically structured as an office that is independent of line management and reports near or at the top of the organization. A high level of organizational commitment and independence is critical to ensuring the neutrality and credibility of the ombuds office in working for organizational change and fostering such organizational values as fairness, equity and justice.
Developments in corporate law, governance and ethics over the past two decades (particularly in the last few years) have generated greater interest by the press, corporate managers, corporate compliance officers, judges, and the labor and employment bar in the role of ombuds. The evolution in social, legal and policy issues relating to organizational and institutional systems has meant that more people and groups are identifying themselves as stakeholders in what we ombuds do and how we do it.
This interest led the American Bar Association (ABA) to promulgate 2004 Standards for the Establishment and Operations of Ombuds Offices (2004 Standards).2 This was not the ABA’s first foray in the area of ombuds. In 1969, the ABA adopted a resolution pertaining to classical ombuds, recommending that “state and local governments consider establishing ombudsmen ... authorized to inquire into administrative action and to make public criticism.”3
The 2004 Standards promulgated by the ABA call for greater use of organizational ombuds to receive, inquire into and assist in resolving complaints within public and private entities. These standards, which were approved by the ABA House of Delegates, affirm that “independence, impartiality in conducting inquiries and investigations, and confidentiality are essential characteristics of all ombuds” and must be adhered to for the ombuds to effectively meet the duties of the role.