Coalition of Federal Ombudsman  
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      HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

Between 1990 - 1995, ombudsman programs proliferated. Amidst growing concerns by the Administration, Congress, and the American public regarding the size of government, burdensome government regulation, and bureaucratic bottlenecks, federal agency Ombudsman offices were created. They formed to facilitate a burgeoning number of issues and complaints arising from the public at large as well as from the employees of federal agencies. During this period, many federal agency ombudsman programs were legislatively mandated, while others were agency created.

Because of a proliferation of federal agency ombudsmen in the 1990's, a need arose for platforms of idea exchange, ombudsman program development, and establishment of best practices models. In response to these needs, the Coalition of Federal Ombudsmen (The Coalition) was formed and convened their first meeting in July, 1996.

Coalition members quickly realized that the ombudsman's roles and responsibilities varied greatly according to their own agency's mission and needs. Their first meeting was insightful; the group shared the challenges associated with ensuring that client service initiatives are met and consistently improved.

Because of the rapid growth of the Ombudsman field, as well as growth of Ombudsman staffs within agencies, most Coalition members wanted information regarding developing Ombudsman practices, policies, and operating models. Many of the seasoned Coalition members were able to share their experiences with newer members, thereby giving them insight into best practices within the Ombudsman profession. These experiences allowed newly-formed Ombudsman offices to get their programs running faster and more efficiently, thereby generating an early and favorable demonstration of the effectiveness of Ombudsman programs throughout federal government.

Membership in The Coalition has grown dramatically in the past four years, from 11 in 1996 to over 42 members, representing 37 different agencies...a 280% increase. Additionally, several large federal agencies have added ombudsman services to 3 to 4 sub-agencies within their structure, granting easier access for employees and the public to ombudsmen. These sub-agency additions have not only increased the number of ombudsmen but have added to the ranks of Coalition membership.

In 1997, The Coalition was nominated for and won the Hammer Award, Vice President AI Gore's special recognition to teams who have made significant contributions in support of the President's National Performance Review principles of more efficient and less costly government. The Coalition richly deserves this award in light of the contributions that members have made to their agencies, their government, and their customers.

Leadership at The Coalition is provided by a Chairman, who is assisted by a coordinator. In 1996, Walter Corley, Ombudsman at the U.S. Customs Service, was elected by the membership as the first Chairman. In 1998, Arleas Upton Kea, Ombudsman at Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, was appointed Chairman by Walter Corley upon his departure; and Kea, after a 2 year chairmanship, appointed Howard Gadlin, Ombudsman at National Institutes of Health and former President of The Ombudsman Association, as Chairman in September, 1999. Howard served continuously until January 2005 when members elected Joseph Ganci, Ombudsman at the Department of Labor, Chairman.

The Coalition has always been an informal group; meeting usually over lunch, it provides an excellent method of exchanging information. However, there is now a Coalition member movement toward becoming a more formal organization. Coalition members are at the crossroads of deciding what type of organization The Coalition will be, needing to decide whether to become a more formal organization and, if so, how to shape that organization.

On March 19, 2002, The Coalition held its first all day conference at the FDIC to discuss Ombudsman Practices and the unique role of the Federal Ombudsman in Alternative Dispute Resolution.

In early 2005 members voted to accept the Coalition of Federal Ombudsmen Charter. It serves as further guidance and direction to Coalition members and adds a more formal stride to the Coalition of Federal Ombudsmen organizational evolution.

Most Coalition members believe that superior educational opportunities come through information sharing among the members. One member observed that ombudsmanry is not taught in colleges, but it can be learned through The Coalition. Members "showcasing" their programs and discussing difficult or different types of cases are ways to learn and grow professionally, and this what the members are doing - growing professionally, just as Coalition membership is growing rapidly.

 

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