The Ombuds Year in Review: 2016's Top Stories

This is the Ombuds Blog's sixth annual survey of the Organizational Ombuds stories.

10. Internal Survey Promotes Expansion of UN Ombuds -- A report published by an independent oversight body in June 2016 recommended a more robust Ombuds program throughout the United Nations system. The report tacitly acknowledges the benefits of an Ombuds program for a diverse, multinational, and high profile organization.

9. ACCUO's Timeline Maps Ombuds History -- In June, the Association of Canadian College and University Ombudspersons published a chronology of landmark Ombuds events in higher education in Canada and other countries. The document, which is still a work in progress, is an important outline of Ombuds history from the 1960's to now.

8. IOA Co-hosts Conference in Puerto Rico -- In October, the International Ombudsman Association and Eaton Corp jointly hosted a conference in Las Piedras, Puerto Rico. This was the first conference IOA has hosted outside the continental U.S. and important test run for an truly international conference.

7. ABA Promotes Ombuds with Two Remarkable Projects -- The American Bar Association's Section on Dispute Resolution gave Ombuds a big marketing push in 2016. In September, the ABA Dispute Resolution Law School Task Force completed its year-long project of a free, downloadable PowerPoint presentation about all types of Ombuds for law school instructors. Then, in November, the Fall issue of Dispute Resolution Magazine was devoted to the Ombuds field (and a special arrangement made the fire-walled site available to Ombuds Blog readers).

6. Court Rulings Nibble at Core Tenets -- Two different court rulings questioned two of the fundamental ethical principles for Ombuds.  A Florida state appellate court, considering a wrongful termination suit brought by the former long-term care Ombudsman, held that the state had no duty to respect the independence of the program.  A German district court ruled that a corporate Ombudsman could not protect the confidentiality of whistleblowers in a criminal investigation.  Although both cases involved other types of Ombuds, the ethical tenets at issue are claimed by Organizational Ombuds.  Time will only tell if these court rulings are a harbinger.

5. Experts Call for Sports Ombuds -- More industry watchers are advocating for Ombuds programs to serve competitive athletes.  One expert said that the continued problem of sexual assault involving collegiate athletes should be addressed in part by an Ombuds program like the U.S. Olympic Committee's.  A subcommittee of the NCAA called for an Ombuds to be available to parties involved in a misconduct investigation.  The Sports Dispute Center of Canada surveyed stakeholders nationally about the Ombuds concept.  Another expert called for Ombuds to be adopted by international sporting organizations.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Fencing Officials Commission quietly created an Ombuds program for referees.

4. Coalition of Federal Ombuds Wields its Influence -- Although largely retrained by regulations that prohibit lobbying by federal employees, COFO became a leading voice on the issue of Ombuds.  In May, the organization gave advice to the National Archives on the disposition of the National Security Administration's Ombuds documents.  In July, COFO sent a letter to the Department of Education regarding the categorization of university Ombuds as mandatory reporters under the Clery Act.  Also, COFO members provided input to the Administrative Conference of the U.S. for its recommendation on federal Ombuds

3. IOA Rebuts Department of Education on Clery Act -- In July, the federal agency updated its guidance document for colleges and universities that comply with the law that requires crime tracking and reporting.  For the first time, the Dept of Ed characterized campus Ombuds as mandatory reporters ("Campus Security Authorities").  IOA responded promptly and aggressively, formally requesting the Department to reconsider and offering an independent legal analysis.  The Association's response was uncharacteristically robust and marked a welcome change from the past.  Unfortunately, the Department was unmoved.  A glimmer of hope persists because the guidance document is advisory only. 

2. ACUS Recommends Expansion of Ombuds in Federal Agencies -- After a year-long study that tapped some leading Ombuds, the Administrative Conference of the U.S. concluded that Ombuds (Classical and Organizational, internal and external) provided significant benefits to government agencies and the public.  ACUS recommended more Ombuds and adherence to standards promulgated by IOA and the U.S. Ombudsman Association.  

1. IOA Overhauls Membership Categories -- After years of efforts and campaigning by its Board and other leaders, the International Ombudsman Association members voted to dismantle the categories of membership that many found divisive and limiting.  Now, the Association has just three categories of membership, ensuring most dues-payers the same privileges.  At the same time, the bylaws were revised to restrict Board membership to ensure that the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice can be changed only by experienced Ombuds.  While the bylaws changes may seem arcane, it is hoped that the Association is now poised to be more welcoming and financially secure.

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