Federal Complaint-Handling, Ombudsman, and Advocacy Offices
Federal Complaint-Handling, Ombudsman, and
September 10, 2008
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
Frederick M. Kaiser
Specialist in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
Federal Complaint-Handling, Ombudsman, and
Federal complaint-handling, ombudsman, and advocacy offices have different
forms, capacities, and designations. This report, which reviews the state of research
in this field and the heritage of such offices, examines and compares them, along
with recent legislative developments and past proposals to establish a government-
wide ombudsman. In so doing, the report identifies the basic characteristics of these
offices, recognizing differences among them with regard to their powers, duties,
jurisdictions, locations, and resources, as well as control over them. This study
covers only ombudsman-like offices at the federal level that deal with the public,
sometimes known as “external ombudsmen.” It does not cover “internal
ombudsmen,” that is, offices created to handle complaints from employees and
resolve disputes between them and management; ombudsman-like offices in the
private sector; or similar entities at other levels of government in the United States
or abroad, except to note differences among them.
Legislative interest, albeit sporadic, in establishing a government-wide
ombudsman or standardizing individual offices across-the-board dates to the early
1960s. These efforts extended in the 1970s to proposals to establish an independent
office of consumer representation or consumer affairs, a plan that President Jimmy
Carter later endorsed. Another initiative emerged in 1993, when President William
Clinton — through an executive order “Setting Customer Service Standards” —
directed executive departments and agencies to make information, service, and
complaint-systems easily accessible and provide means to address such complaints.
The order also called for agencies to set customer service standards, survey
customers, report to the President on those surveys, and publish customer service
plans. A subsequent government-wide customer satisfaction survey, incidentally,
found a similar range of satisfaction between the private and public sectors.
Notwithstanding these efforts over the past five decades, no comprehensive,
across-the-board transformations have occurred. Nonetheless, numerous individual
offices have been established or modified by administrative directives and public
laws, including several in the 110th Congress. This piecemeal approach — reflecting
different demands in both the government and society over time and across policy
areas — has resulted in a variety of ombudsman-like offices. Although a complete,
authoritative identification and description of current offices does not exist, a number
of studies — from past and contemporary eras, along with the examples here —
provide a wide sampling of complaint-handling and advocacy offices for examination
and consideration as models.
This report consists of three parts: (1) an analysis of the ombudsman concept
and a brief look at which countries around the world have used ombudsmen; (2) a
breakdown of the various ways in which federal complaint-handling offices differ;
and (3) an identification and description of selected ombudsman-like offices,
including specifics on their origins and operations.
This report will be updated as events warrant.
Broad-Scale Studies and Proposals....................................6
Initiatives in the 1960s and 1970s.............................6
Developments in the 1980s and 1990s..........................7
GAO Study in 2000........................................7
Congressional Interest in the Internet and the “Digital Divide,”
Complaint-Handling Offices and Congressional Casework.........9
Differences Among Offices.........................................15
Reasons for Differences........................................16
Powers and Duties............................................16
Electronic and Traditional Communications........................19
Development of E-government..............................19
Websites and the Internet...................................21
Benefits and Concerns.....................................23
Appendix. Examples of Ombudsman-like Entities.......................26
American National Red Cross...................................26
Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census,
Small Business Ombudsman................................27
Department of Defense........................................27
Base Transition Coordinators for Military Base Reuse............27
Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy Ombudsman........28
Employer Support of the National Guard and
NMCP Navy Family Ombudsman............................29
Department of Education Federal Student Aid Ombudsman............30
Department of Health and Human Services.........................31
Food and Drug Administration Ombudsman....................31
Long-term Care Ombudsman................................31
Medicare Beneficiary Ombudsman...........................32
Specialized Jurisdictional Ombudsmen........................33
Department of Homeland Security................................33
Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.....................34
Transportation Security Administration Office of
Civil Rights and Liberties..............................36
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman...36
Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs,
Department of Justice Office of Inspector General...................38
Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration,
Aviation Noise Ombudsman................................39
Department of the Treasury.....................................39
Internal Revenue Service Taxpayer Advocate Service............39
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency Ombudsman...........41
Office of Thrift Supervision Ombudsman......................41
Department of Veterans Affairs..................................42
Board of Veterans’ Appeals Ombudsman......................42
Federal Recovery Coordinators and Transition Patient Advocates...42
Environmental Protection Agency................................44
Office of Inspector General Public Liaison.....................44
Small Business Ombudsman................................46
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Ombudsman.................47
Freedom of Information Act Entities..............................48
Office of Government Information Services....................48
General Services Administration Construction Metrication Ombudsman.49
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Procurement Ombudsman
and Center Procurement Ombudsman.........................49
National Credit Union Administration Ombudsman..................50
Office of the Director of National Intelligence Civil Liberties
Small Business Administration..................................51
SBA Office of Advocacy...................................52
U.S. Agency for International Development Acquisition
and Assistance Ombudsman................................52
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Small
U.S. Postal Service Consumer Advocate...........................53
Federal Complaint-Handling, Ombudsman,
and Advocacy Offices
A variety of offices at the federal level respond to complaints, grievances, and
concerns from the public about government programs, services, and operations.1
These entities, which differ in important respects, are variously referred to as
complaint-handling, advocacy, public counsel, coordinative, and ombudsman offices.
Despite their differences, they exhibit a common purpose — to represent the public
in such matters — which is reflected in the classic ombudsman: that is, a high-
ranking official who may be situated outside the executive and possessing
independent resources and powers. This notion, which has developed over more
than a century, has its modern genesis in Sweden and its evolution largely in
European parliamentary regimes.2 An “ombudsman,” which is a Swedish word that
1 This report builds on several previous Congressional Research Service (CRS) studies: CRS
Report 76-192, The Ombudsman Concept: Background Information, by Harold C. Relyea,
available from the author; CRS Congressional Distribution Memorandum, Federal
Complaint-Handling Offices, by Frederick M. Kaiser, Aug. 20, 2000; and CRS
Congressional Distribution Memorandum, Options for Using the Internet to Improve
Federal Complaint-Handling, by Frederick M. Kaiser and Eric Fischer, Apr. 11, 2000.
2 Such offices have since extended worldwide. For studies of the concept and its adoption,
in both the United States and abroad, see American Assembly, Columbia University, Thend
Ombudsman: Report of the 32 American Assembly (Harriman, NY: American Assembly,
1967); Kent M. Weeks, Ombudsmen Around the World (Berkeley, CA: Institute of
Governmental Studies, University of California, 1978); Sam Zagoria, The Ombudsman:
How Good Governments Handle Citizens’ Grievances (Washington: Seven Locks Press,
1988); Jeffrey S. Lubbers, Independent Advocacy Agencies Within Agencies: A Survey of
Federal Agency External Ombudsmen, Report to the National Taxpayers Advocate
(Washington: Washington College of Law, American University, 2000, updated June,
2003); David R. Anderson and Diane M. Stockton, “Federal Ombudsmen: An Underused
Resource,” Administrative Law Journal, vol. 5, summer 1991, pp. 275-345; Walter
Gellhorn, Ombudsmen and Others (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966);
Donald C. Rowat, ed., The Ombudsman, Citizen’s Defender (London: Allen and Unwin,
1965); Stanley V. Anderson, ed., Ombudsmen for American Government? (Englewood
Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1968); Stanley V. Anderson (The American Assembly),
Ombudsman Papers: American Experience and Proposals (Berkeley, CA: Institute of
Governmental Studies, University of California, 1969); Administrative Conference of the
United States, The Ombudsman: A Primer for Federal Agencies (Washington: ACUS,
1991); Katja Heede, European Ombudsmen: Redress and Control at the Union Level
(Boston: Kluwer International, 2000); Roy V. Peel, The Ombudsman or Citizen’s Defender:
A Modern Institution, in The Annals, vol. 377 (Philadelphia, PA: The American Academy
of Political and Social Science, 1968) (entire volume); Linda C. Reif, ed., The International
broadly means “one who represents someone,” is viewed as a servant of the public.
As such, the position has been described as follows:
an independent high-level officer who receives complaints, who pursues inquires
[sic] into the maters [sic] involved, and who makes recommendations for suitable
action. He may also investigate on his own motion. He makes periodic public
reports. His remedial weapons are persuasion, criticism and publicity. He3
cannot as a matter of law reverse administrative action.
In brief, the concept of ombudsman has come to mean, in the words of former
Senator Edward Long, “a guardian of the people’s rights against abuses and
malfunctions by government, its programs, and its officials — a sort of watchman
over the law’s watchmen.”4
The U.S. federal government has not adopted the “classic” ombudsman.
Instead, the government has multifarious forms of ombudsmen-like offices. Even the
entities that carry the same title (of “ombudsman,” for example) differ in their
powers, functions, duties, activities, jurisdictions, independence, and resources. In
comparison to one another, for instance, some offices are limited to receiving
complaints or grievances from the public and passing them on to relevant units
within the agency — without necessarily following up on them. Other complaint-
handling entities do follow up on such charges, examine the agency’s operations,
and, in some cases, mediate or resolve disputes between the aggrieved party and the
agency. Still other entities may be proactive; that is, they seek out certain clientele
groups to notify them about relevant government services, assist them in gaining
access to these, and ensure that such services are delivered properly and fully.
Separate from these functions and duties, some ombudsman-like offices issue reports
(periodic and/or episodic) to agency officials, Congress, and/or the public, while
others have no such obligation or practice.
Several recent statutes reflect these different characteristics, as well as varying
!The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004,
which expanded the government’s powers to combat terrorism,
established a new entity or added to the responsibilities and roles of
existing ones to help protect civil rights and civil liberties. Three
with enhanced responsibilities are in the Department of Homeland
Ombudsman Anthology: Selected Writings from the International Ombudsman Institute (The
Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1999); and Victor Ayeni, et al., Strengthening
Ombudsman and Human Rights Institutions in Commonwealth Small and Island States
(London: Commonwealth Secretariat, in collaboration with the International Ombudsman
3 American Assembly, The Ombudsman, p. 6.
4 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Administrative
Practice and Procedure, Ombudsman, hearings, 89th Cong., 2nd sess., Mar. 7, 1966,
(Washington: GPO, 1966).
Security (DHS): a Privacy Officer and an Officer for Civil Rights
and Civil Liberties, along with additional special duties for the
inspector general (IG).5 In addition, a new position — the Civil
Liberties Protection Officer — was created in the Office of the
Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), to help protect civil
liberties and privacy in policies and procedures under the ODNI.6
!The National Defense Authorization Act for FY2008 incorporated
a number of separate bills, including the Wounded Warrior Act.7
The legislation is designed to aid returning wounded military
personnel in receiving appropriate medical care, when they are in the
service (and in the Department of Defense), as well as after they are
discharged (and under the jurisdiction of the Department of Veterans
Affairs). The provisions — based on the recommendations of
several governmental commissions (notably, the Dole-Shalala
Commission) and congressional panels that were highly critical of
the care given to injured veterans8 — established Federal Recovery
Coordinators and Transition Patient Advocates to assist them. These
positions are intended to reduce, if not prevent, complications,
uncertainties, and delays from arising in the first place and, if they
do arise, mitigate their impact. If such problems arise, the
5 P.L. 108-458; 118 Stat. 3867-3869, which amended P.L. 107-296, 116 Stat. 2135, codified
at 6 U.S.C. § 142. The special duty for the DHS inspector general makes it one of three —
among the nearly 60 IGs under the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended (5 U.S.C.
Appendix) — to have ombudsman-related responsibilities. The others are in the Department
of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency. See CRS Report 98-379, Statutory
Offices of Inspector General: Past and Present, by Frederick M. Kaiser.
6 P.L. 108-458, 118 Stat. 3658-3659. As a related development, the 2004 act also endorsed
another recommendation of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United
States, commonly called the “9/11 Commission,” by mandating a Privacy and Civil Liberties
Oversight Board in the Executive Office of the President. P.L. 108-458; 118 Stat. 3684-
3687. For an overview of the Board’s establishment, evolution, and functions, see CRS
Report RS22078, Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board: Congressional Refinements,
by Harold C. Relyea, and CRS Report RL34385, Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight
Board: New Independent Agency Status, by Harold C. Relyea. Details on the requirements
for protecting privacy and other legal rights with regard to information sharing are provided
by U.S. Information Sharing Environment (ISE), Purpose and Vision of the Information
Sharing Environment; Background on Protecting Information Privacy and Other Legal
Rights in the Context of the ISE; and Annual Report to the Congress on the Information
Sharing Environment (2007), all available at [http://www.ise.gov].
7 P.L. 110-181, Secs. 1611 and 1614.
8 For an overview, see U.S. Congress, House Committee on Armed Services, Wounded
Warrior Assistance Act of 2007, H.Rept. 110-68, 110th Cong., 1st sess., 2007; and
Conference Committee, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, H.Rept.thnd
110-477, 110 Cong., 2 sess., 2008. Prominent among the commissions was the
President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors, Serve,
Support, Simplify (Washington: GPO, 2007). The commission’s popular name comes from
its co-chairs, former Senator Robert Dole and former Secretary of Health and Human
Services Donna Shalala.
coordinators and advocates are positioned to respond on their own
or at the behest of the veterans.
!Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) amendments signed into law on
December 31, 2007, created several new positions to assist the
public in gaining access to government information. Public Liaisons
in each federal agency are to be designated by a Chief FOIA Officer,
who is also responsible for monitoring FOIA implementation and
facilitating public understanding of the purposes of FOIA’s
exemptions.9 The purposes of the Public Liaisons are to serve as an
official to whom a FOIA requester can raise concerns about service
from the FOIA Requester Center; to assist in reducing agency delays
in responding to requests and increase the transparency and
understanding of the status of requests; and to assist in the resolution
of disputes between a requester and the agency. The law also sets up
an Office of Government Information Services in the National
Archives and Records Administration; it is to review compliance
with FOIA policies, recommend policy changes to Congress and the
President, offer mediation services between FOIA requesters and
administrative agencies, and issue advisory opinions if mediation
has not resolved a dispute.10
!The American National Red Cross Governance Modernization Act
of 2007 established an ombudsman in the American National Red
Cross (ANRC).11 Although it is not a federal agency, the ANRC is
federally chartered and charged with assisting federal government
efforts in disaster relief.12 The ombudsman’s office, while modest
at this stage, serves as a neutral party that provides voluntary,
confidential, and informal processes designed to facilitate the
resolution of problems between the ANRC and others.
9 P.L. 110-175, Secs. 6 and 10.
10 Shortly after the office was instituted, the Bush Administration proposed to abolish it and
transfer its functions from NARA to the Department of Justice. The proposal appears in a
provision (Section 519) in the President’s budget submission for the FY2009 appropriations
for the Department of Commerce. U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the
United States Government, Fiscal Year 2009, Appendix (Washington: OMB, 2008), p. 239.
Press coverage: Elizabeth Williamson, “Is Ombudsman Already in Jeopardy?” Washington
Post, Feb. 6, 2008, p. A17.
11 P.L. 110-26; 121 Stat. 110.
12 36 U.S.C. § 300101. For its assignments and duties related to the federal government,
coordination with federal agencies, and directives from the President, see 42 U.S.C. § 5143,
5152, and 5153; and 22 U.S.C. § 2601 note. One of those responsibilities — coordinating
mass care following a disaster — was transferred to the Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) in the wake of the 2005 Gulf Coast Hurricanes. The primary reason for
the shift was the ANRC’s lack of authority to direct federal agencies’ resources to meet
mass care needs. See U.S. Government Accountability Office, National Disaster Response:
FEMA Should Take Action to Improve Capacity and Coordination between Government and
Voluntary Sectors, GAO Report GAO-08-369, Feb. 2008, pp. 1-2.
Attempts to establish a government-wide ombudsman at the federal level or to
standardize ombudsman-like offices have received attention — from Congress, the
executive, international organizations, academia, relevant professional societies, and
the press — sporadically since at least the mid-1960s. These across-the-board plans,
however, have remained on the drawing board.
By comparison, national-level offices of ombudsman have proliferated in
Sweden and elsewhere. Finland established such an office nearly 100 years ago. In
the 1960s, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Spain, Tanzania, Great Britain, and
Northern Ireland established ombudsmen. In the 1970s, France, Portugal, and
Austria established such offices. Countries including South Africa, Hungary, the
Czech Republic, Columbia, and Zimbabwe have established national or sub-national
offices of ombudsman in the last 20 years to curb human rights abuses and aid in
democratic transitions. According to the International Ombudsman Institute, about
120 countries currently employ ombudsmen at the national or sub-national level of
government.13 The European Union appointed its first European Ombudsman on
July 12, 1995.14 Some of the ombudsmen in other countries serve at the national
level and have broader jurisdictions and a greater degree of independence —
especially those in parliamentary regimes — than their American namesakes.
This overview is not a comprehensive study of various complaint-handling,
ombudsman, or advocacy offices. Instead, it provides examples of ombudsman-like
offices, recognizing their variations. Differences among these instrumentalities
include those noted below.
!Origins: Was the office created internally within an agency, or
mandated by Congress or the President?
!Powers and duties: Does the entity simply receive complaints and
pass them along, or does it also follow up on complaints after an
agency response; does it resolve disputes between the agency and the
complainant, or does it engage in proactive efforts, such as
providing outreach and special assistance to individuals?
13 International Ombudsman Institute, “Ombudsman History & Development,” available at
[ h t t p : / / www. l a w. u a l b e r t a . c a / c e ntres/ioi/About-t he-I.O.I./History-and-Development.ph p ] ,
visited Dec. 12, 2007. A list of countries with ombudsman offices at the national or sub-
national level is available at [http://www.law.ualberta.ca/centres/ioi/Links/
Worldwide-Offices.php], visited Dec. 21, 2007. Existing ombudsman examinations and
investigations are limited because they are dated (e.g., one of the most comprehensive,
detailed studies was conducted in 1977); highly specialized, focusing on particular offices
or a single type of office (e.g., those titled ombudsmen); or cross-agency surveys that look
at only a selected aspect of complaint handling (e.g., use of the Internet to receive
complaints) and, thus, do not provide a full description of the offices and their duties,
responsibilities, powers, capabilities, and resources.
14 The European Ombudsman and Authors, The European Ombudsman: Origins,
Establishment, Evolution (Luxemburg: Office of Official Publications of the European
Communities, 2005), p. 92, available at [http://ombudsman.europa.eu/10anniversary/pdf/en/
!Jurisdictions: Is there one complaint-handling entity for an entire
agency, or several entities with separate jurisdictions; if the latter,
how confined are these?
!Locations: Is the ombudsman-like office situated within a “parent”
agency or made independent of it?
!Resources: What is the level of funding and resources that the entity
!Controls: Who appoints and removes the officer, and who
determines the office’s budget and spending priorities?
These criteria are not discrete. The characteristics overlap and are utilized in a
variety of combinations in federal agencies and organizations, offering a gamut of
ways and means for the public to petition the government. The variations among the
attributes also suggest important differences in the capacity and capability of each
Broad-Scale Studies and Proposals
Interest in institutionalizing a centralized or standardized complaint-handling
role in the federal government began in the mid-1960s. Although no proposals along
these lines have been adopted, a number of studies and recommendations have
emerged over the years. These have come from Members of Congress, executive and
administrative officers, and nongovernmental organizations.
Over the past five decades, Congress has periodically looked into legislating
complaint-handling mechanisms with intense interest in the 1960s and sporadic
attention in the following decades.
Initiatives in the 1960s and 1970s. Legislative proposals for complaint-
handling mechanisms began in 1963. Three years later, the Senate Subcommittee on
Administrative Practice and Procedure launched an extensive examination of
ombudsmen and other complaint-handling offices and, in 1970, considered proposals
to create a public counsel corporation.15 On May 9, 1973, Representative Wayne
Owens introduced H.R. 7680 to create an Office of Congressional Ombudsman,
15 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Administrative
Practice and Procedure, Ombudsman, hearings, 89th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington: GPO,
hearings, 91 Cong., 2 sess. (Washington: GPO, 1971). Legislation along these lines was
introduced as early as 1963. Among the initial advocates were Representative Henry S.
Reuss, calling for an Administrative Counsel, who would be limited to receiving complaints
from congressional offices, and Senator Edward V. Long, whose proposal for an Office of
Administrative Ombudsman led the way to a hearing by his Subcommittee on
Administrative Practice and Procedure in 1966. Other legislative initiatives were
undertaken later by Senators Jacob Javits, Edward Kennedy, Birch Bayh, Robert Taft, and
John Tunney. See CRS Report 76-192, The Ombudsman Concept, pp. 6-10.
which would have allowed legislators to request investigations of federal agencies
— drawing help from both the Congressional Research Service and the General
Accounting Office, now the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The bill,
however, was not reported by the House Committee on House Administration. On
November 6, 1973, Representative Les Aspin sponsored H.R. 11257, which proposed
the addition of an ombudsman position within House members’ staffs. The same fate
awaited this bill; it was not reported by the House Committee on House
In the mid-1970s, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Consumer, and
Monetary Affairs examined proposals for an office of consumer affairs, a plan that
President Jimmy Carter later endorsed. Despite the backing, it was not authorized.16
Shortly before this development, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee issued
its Study on Federal Regulation, an extensive six-volume effort that devoted an entire
volume to public participation in agency proceedings.17 In this study, the panel
looked at different devices — including an office of public counsel, an independent
consumer agency, and various other complaint-handling offices — that served or
could serve as a conduit for citizen grievances, complaints, or questions about the
implementation of public policy or, beyond this, as an advocate for citizen interests.
No legislation, however, was enacted.
Developments in the 1980s and 1990s. A variety of complaint-handling
offices were written into legislation throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, including
offices in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Federal Student Aid Office (FSA), and18
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the early 1990s, GAO examined
access to, and utilization of, the ombudsman program under the Older Americans19
Act, as well as the handling of beneficiary complaints under Medicare.
GAO Study in 2000. Many of the older and circumscribed ombudsman
studies had been confined to the “paper age” and did not consider the impact and
implications of computers and the Internet on complaint-handling entities,
procedures, practices, and resources. An exception to this was a survey by GAO of
32 “high impact agencies” — those handling about 90% of federal contact with the
public — and their use of electronic communications, especially the Internet, to
16 For coverage, see Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation, 1977-1980, vol. 5
(Washington: Congressional Quarterly Service, 1981), pp. 353-357.
17 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Administrative
Practice and Procedure, Public Participation in Federal Agency Proceedings, S. 2715,thnd
hearings, 94 Cong, 2 sess. (Washington: GPO, 1976).
18 Congress created the Office of Taxpayer Ombudsman (now the Taxpayer Advocate) in
and the EPA’s Asbestos and Small Business Ombudsman in 1982 under the Small Business
Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA), P.L. 104-121.
19 U.S. General Accounting Office, The Older Americans Act: Access to and Utilization of
the Ombudsman Program, GAO Report PEMD-92-21 (Washington: GAO, 1992); and
Medicare: Improper Handling of Beneficiary Complaints of Provider Fraud and Abuse,
GAO Report HRD-92-1 (Washington: GAO, 1992).
receive citizen complaints and comments.20 The study found that the overwhelming
majority of agencies (i.e., 29 agencies) had a website to receive complaints and
comments from the public — 21 had an e-mail link for program comments and
complaints, and 28 had an e-mail link for comments to the agency webmaster — in
addition to receiving information via telephone and mail. The survey, however, was
limited in two ways: (1) it did not include the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD), which has substantial contact with the public; and (2) the
survey inquired only about an agency’s receipt of complaints and comments, not
about such other possible Internet-based, website uses, including categorizing,
cataloging, storing, and disseminating information.21 Nonetheless, GAO’s review
represented the first such cross-agency survey of Internet-based complaint handling
and served as a first step to more extensive and detailed studies.
GAO’s review commented on the status of two federal efforts to develop
centralized Internet-based hubs for citizens attempting to access information about
federal programs or services: (1) [http://www.consumer.gov/], operated by the
Federal Trade Commission (FTC); and (2) the USA.gov site, developed by the
General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Communications.
The ongoing FTC site presents consumer information and links to complaint forms
grouped by topic or subject area (e.g., food, product safety, and health), rather than
by agency; because of this orientation, a citizen does not need to know the
responsible agency when submitting a comment or lodging a complaint. The GSA
site serves as “the U.S. government’s official web portal.”22 As such, it provides
links to government grants, available jobs, and information on combating identity
theft. The site also links to the Federal Citizen Information Center (FCIC),23 which
has a list of federal agencies that document complaints against private companies.
In addition, the GSA site includes a page of links to government agencies and elected
offi ci al s. 24
Congressional Interest in the Internet and the “Digital Divide,”th
20 The study, released on July 7, 2000, surveyed 32 “High Impact Agencies,” that is, those
that handle 90% of the federal government’s contact with the public, as identified by the
National Partnership for Reinventing Government. These included bureaus and offices in
12 of the 14 Cabinet departments (omitting the Departments of Energy and Housing and
Urban Development), along with such major independent agencies as the Environmental
Protection Agency, Social Security Administration, and U.S. Postal Service. U.S. General
Accounting Office, Internet: Federal Web-based Complaint Handling, Letter Report to
Honorable Ernest F. Hollings and Honorable Ron Wyden, GAO Report AIMD-00-238R
(Washington: GAO, 2000) pp. 1, 2, and 8.
21 Ibid., pp. 1, 2, and 8.
22 U.S. General Services Administration, Office of Citizen Services and Communications,
About USA.gov, available at [http://www.usa.gov/About.shtml].
23 Federal Consumer Information Center, available at [http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/
24 U.S. General Services Administration, Office of Citizen Services and Communications,
Contact Your Government, available at [http://www.usa.gov/Contact.shtml].
21st, Congress — as well as the executive and private parties — has considered the
rise of the Internet and its impact, with particular attention to the “digital divide.”25
This phenomenon (discussed further in the section on e-government) recognizes a
distinct division between individuals, groups, and organizations with access to, and
skills and resources in using, the Internet versus those without these attributes.
Congressional hearings were held in 1999-2002, in part based on an executive branch
study (discussed below); and remedial legislation continues to be introduced in the
Congress’s attention has focused, for the most part, on ways to increase Internet
access, skills, and resources among the poor, minorities, and rural residents, the
groups most likely to be on the disadvantaged side of the “divide.” Proposed
legislative remedies center on increasing computer skills and resources for the
disadvantaged in general, rather than on Internet access to specific governmental
operations and services in particular, including complaint handling. Despite this
orientation, such legislative efforts indirectly contribute to a better understanding of
the impact of the Internet on complaint-handling and accessing information about
government programs, operations, and activities. In addition, two CRS memoranda
in 2000 did look into the use of the Internet in the context of complaint handling.26
Complaint-Handling Offices and Congressional Casework. Implicitly
and often explicitly, proposals to establish a government-wide ombudsman have
generated concerns about its impact on congressional casework. In an earlier era, it
was not entirely clear what effects the creation of ombudsmen or complaint-handling
offices in the executive had on Congress in terms of the casework function of
legislators. The question had been complicated in the past — according to Stanley
V. Anderson (an authority on ombudsmen), writing in the late 1960s — by “a paucity
of information on the treatment of grievances by elected officials in general, and by27
legislators in particular.”
25 For a sampling, see U.S. Congress, House Committee on Small Business, Subcommittee
on Empowerment, The Digital Divide: Bridging the Technology Gap, hearing, 106th Cong.,st
1 sess., July 21, 1999 (Washington: GPO, 2001); and U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on
Commerce, Science, and Transportation, NTIA Digital Network Technology Program Actthnd
Report, S.Rept. 107-207, 107 Cong., 2 sess. (Washington: GPO, 2002); and U.S.
Congress, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on
Science, Technology, and Space, S. 414, Digital Divide and Minority Serving Institutions,thnd
hearing, 107 Cong., 2 sess., Feb. 27, 2002 (Washington: GPO, 2005). Later legislativethst
initiatives included the Digital Divide Elimination Act of 2003, H.R. 1131, 108 Cong., 1thst
sess. (2003); and the Rural America Digital Accessibility Act, H.R. 3428, 110 Cong., 1
26 The CRS congressional distribution memoranda, whose analyses have been incorporated
in this report, are Options for Using the Internet to Improve Federal Complaint-Handling,
by Frederick M. Kaiser and Eric Fischer; and Federal Complaint-Handling Offices, by
Frederick M. Kaiser.
27 Stanley V. Anderson, Ombudsman Papers: American Experience and Proposals, Institute
of Governmental Studies (Berkeley: University of California, 1969), p. 19.
Times have changed since then, as numerous studies have detailed the high
priority and significant resources Members and their offices devote to casework
across the board.28 In political scientist Richard F. Fenno Jr.’s 1978 seminal study,
Home Style: House Members in their Districts, this activity is recognized as an
essential, albeit time-consuming, ingredient in securing the legislator’s elected office.
According to Fenno, casework is
a highly valued form of activity. Not only is the constituent service universally
recognized as an important part of the job in its own right. It is also universally29
recognized as powerful reelection medicine.
This and supportive findings elsewhere may help to explain the general reluctance
among legislators to relinquish congressional casework to an administrative officer,
who is not under their immediate control and direction. This feature of executive
ombudsmen is in stark contrast to caseworkers in Member offices. In the latter,
staffers are hired and promoted by the Members, who also determine the
caseworkers’ duties and assignments, and can insist on their responsiveness to
constituent requests. As a consequence, casework is well-institutionalized in
Member offices and sometimes beyond. It is even directly aided and reinforced by
executive agencies that provide casework resources, noticeably in high-demand,
Testimony on the earliest ombudsman proposals of Representative Henry Reuss
raised concerns that legislators would continue to act on public complaints by
themselves, leaving the ombudsman underutilized. In defending the 1965 incarnation
of his legislation to create an “American Ombudsman,” Reuss countered criticism by
stressing the heavy workload brought about by casework and its adverse impact on
other congressional functions and responsibilities, particularly lawmaking, which he
saw as primary.
The role Congressmen have assumed as the citizen’s advocates against the
bureaucracy is important and valuable in our system of government. It has
helped to prevent injustices and to promote good administration. But the job of
28 For discussion and citations, see CRS Report RL33209, Casework in a Congressional
Office: Background, Rules, Laws, and Resources, by R. Eric Peterson, pp. 1-3. See also
CRS Report RL34148, Congress and the Internet: Highlights, by Walter J. Oleszek, on
“Constituent Communications,” pp. 18-19.
29 Richard F. Fenno, Jr., Home Style: House Members in their Districts (New York:
Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, Inc., 2003 ed.), p. 101. Additional sources on the
difficulties, demands, and rewards of congressional casework include CRS Report RL33209,
Casework in a Congressional Office; Roger Davidson, Walter J. Oleszek, and Frances E.
Lee, Congress and Its Members (Washington: CQ Press, 2008), pp. 129-147; Charles L.
Clapp, The Congressman (Washington: Brookings Institution, 1963); and Walter Gellhorn,
When Americans Complain (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966).
30 A prime example is in immigration matters. See U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
Services (USCIS), Resources for Congress: Resources for Caseworkers, available at
[http://www.uscis.gov/portal/silte/uscis]. Additional executive agency casework websites
are listed in CRS Report RL33209, Casework in a Congressional Office, pp. 15-16.
handling constituents’ cases has become so burdensome that it is interfering with31
the primary job of Congressmen as legislators.
The Member also emphasized that a government-wide ombudsman or public counsel
would head a professional office, with sufficient funding, trained and experienced
personnel, and powers to pursue complaints and inquiries (via congressional offices
or directly from the public) effectively and efficiently. The ombudsman’s reporting
requirements to Congress, in Representative Reuss’s view, could aid its oversight
At about the same time, however, opposing views gained currency in Congress.
These centered on the projected tangible costs of an overarching executive branch
ombudsman, as well as the intangible costs to congressional responsibilities and
interests. A special Joint Committee on the Organization of the Congress, reporting
in 1966, addressed an ombudsman plan.33 After hearing from some legislators in
favor of such a government-wide office and recognizing its adoption in other
countries, however, the bipartisan, bicameral panel determined that such an entity at
the federal level in the United States would be expensive, both in its funding and its
impact on Congress.
The extent of the problem in the United States is such that the adoption of the
proposal would require creation of a large office or department.
The [J]oint [C]ommittee, after careful consideration, decided against
recommending creation of such an office at this time. We believe that casework
is a proper function of the individual Member of Congress and should not be34
delegated to an administrative body.
The executive has also conducted research and sponsored initiatives in this field
over the past three decades. In 1975, for example, the Office of Consumer Affairs
in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now Health and Human
Services (HHS)) contracted for a feasibility study to improve the handling of
consumer complaints. A part of that effort examined federal government programs
31 Rep. Henry Reuss, House debate, Congressional Record, vol. 111, part 2 (Feb. 3, 1965),
p. 1881. Reuss introduced nearly identical ombudsman bills in 1963, 1965, and 1967; one
(i.e., the 1965 proposal) received committee consideration.
32 Ibid., pp. 1880-1881.
33 U.S. Congress, Joint Committee on the Organization of the Congress, Organization of
Congress, S.Rept. 89-1414, 89th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington: GPO, 1966); and
Congressional Quarterly Service, Congressional Quarterly Almanac, 1966 (Washington:
CQ Press, 1966), p. 545.
34 Joint Committee on the Organization of the Congress, Organization of Congress, S.Rept.
for resolving consumer complaints and their adequacy, examining 12 executives of
independent agencies in depth.35
Later, as noted above, President Jimmy Carter supported the concept of an office
of consumer affairs or representation. When that broad effort failed, however, he
settled for a consumer affairs advisor.36
In 1990, the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS)
commissioned a study of ombudsmen in federal agencies, including detailed case
studies on six of them, along with a short history of the ombudsman movement in
America.37 The report supplemented an ACUS recommendation to establish
ombudsmen in “federal agencies that administer programs with major responsibilities
involving significant interactions with members of the general public.”38
Another related development was President Clinton’s 1993 Executive Order
12862 on “Setting Customer Service Standards.” It called on agencies to make
information, services, and complaint systems easily accessible, and to provide a
means to address customer complaints. A 1996 study by the National Performance
Review provided illustrations of efforts to meet these goals, including the availability
of toll-free phone lines and websites.39
In 1999, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and
Information Administration (NTIA) reported on its study of the “digital divide.”40
It found that computer use in general, and Internet access in particular, had increased
measurably in the previous few years. Nonetheless, computer availability and
35 Technical Assistance Research Program (TARP), Inc., Feasibility Study to Improve
Handling of Consumer Complaints: Evaluation Report, Report PB-244 182, Prepared for
the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (Washington: Apr., 1975).
36 Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation, 1977-1980, vol. 5 (Washington:
Congressional Quarterly Service, 1981), pp. 353-357.
37 David R. Anderson and Diane M. Stockton, Ombudsmen in Federal Agencies: The Theory
and Practice (Report Recommendation 90-2). Administrative Conference of the United
States, Recommendations and Reports 1990 (Washington: Apr. 1990).
38 Administrative Conference of the United States, “The Ombudsman in Federal Agencies,”
Recommendation 90-2, June 7, 1990, Code of Federal Regulations, vol.1, sec. 305.90-2.
The ACUS had been an independent advisory agency within the executive branch. It was
abolished in 1996, via the Treasury, Postal Service and General Government Appropriationsth
Act, Fiscal Year 1996 (P.L. 104-52). The 110 Congress has acted on legislation to revive
ACUS (H.R. 3564 — submitted to the president), but the prospects for funding are
39 U.S. National Performance Review, The Best Kept Secrets in Government: A Report to
President Bill Clinton (Washington: GPO, 1996), pp. 23-40; an electronic version is
available at [http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/npr/library/nprrpt/annrpt/vp-rpt96/toc.html], pp.
40 U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information
Administration, Falling through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide: A Report on the
Telecommunications and Information Technology Gap in America, covered in House
Subcommittee on Empowerment, The Digital Divide, hearings (1999), pp. 4-6 and 56-71.
Internet accessibility remained below the national average for certain groups:
minority, low-income, rural, and single-parent households. The focus of the NTIA
study was on computer resources, skills, and literacy — especially for the
disadvantaged — for education, jobs, careers, and business opportunities.41
Nonetheless, the NTIA review had implications for access to government information
and complaint-handling offices for the disadvantaged — Americans who might need
these the most.
A far-reaching survey appeared in 2000 and was updated in 2003. In a report
to the National Taxpayers Advocate on independent advocacy agencies, Jeffrey
Lubbers examined nearly 30 such entities, ranging from the IRS National Advocate
Service itself to Long-Term Care Ombudsmen.42 The report, in addition to
describing some of the characteristics of the offices, gave attention to state
ombudsmen, as well as standards of conduct, such as those offered by the American
Bar Association (discussed below.). Professor Lubbers found “an increasing number
of independent officers and agencies established within existing departments and
agencies” and that these are “becoming prominent.”43 The offices, however, are not
standardized. They vary, for instance, in number within their parent departments and
agencies, as well as in resources, jurisdiction, and degree of independence.44
The academic community, professional societies, and the press have also
analyzed and assessed complaint-handling mechanisms. As noted above, however,
these are often limited to one or a few entities. Nonetheless, several early studies
opened a window into the organization and operation of some ombudsman-like
offices at the time.
Prominent among these was a 1968 volume from the American Academy of
Political and Social Science entitled The Ombudsman or Citizen’s Defender, which
included several chapters on the American scene.45 At the same time, the American
Assembly raised the question of An Ombudsman for American Government?,
examining practices and proposals affecting federal, state, and local government.46
A further examination of the U.S. experience appeared the next year in a compilation
42 Jeffrey S. Lubbers, Independent Advocacy Agencies Within Agencies: A Survey of Federal
Agency External Ombudsmen, Report to the National Taxpayers Advocate (Washington:
Washington College of Law, American University, 2000, updated June, 2003).
43 Ibid., p. 1.
44 Ibid., p. 2.
45 Sandler, An Ombudsman for the United States?; and Dalmas H. Nelson and Eugene Price,
“Realignment, Readjustment, Reform: The Impact of the Ombudsman on American
Constitutional and Political Institutions,” in Peel, ed., The Ombudsman or Citizen’s
46 Stanley V. Anderson, ed., Ombudsman for American Government? American Assembly,
Columbia University (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1968).
of papers under the auspices of the Institute for Government Studies.47 Since then,
other scholarly and legal studies have reviewed various aspects of complaint-
handling offices at the federal level. These include a proposal for a federal
ombudsman (1972); the ways and means by which certain federal agencies handled
citizen complaints, based on survey responses from 64 separate units (1974);
improved complaint-handling procedures in the Federal Bureau of Investigation
(1979); and a comparison of ombudsmen-like offices in the United States with
similar ones in other countries (1985).48
Later accounts have also considered the ombudsman phenomenon in the United
States. One journal article reported that the United States lagged behind European
democracies in the creation of ombudsmen and showed no signs of catching up.49
U.S. ombudsmen also differed among agencies; and a number of agencies that dealt
with the public extensively did not have institutionalized complaint-handling
offices.50 Still other examinations focused on specific types of complaint-handling
procedures and practices (e.g., those associated with the Immigration and
Naturalization Service — now the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) or on
a specific office (e.g., a proposal to create a public counsel in the National Labor
Several professional societies — including the American Bar Association
(ABA), the United States Ombudsman Association, the Coalition of Federal
Ombudsmen (CFO), and the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) — offer
ombudsman job listings, as well as training seminars for investigation techniques.
Additionally, the ABA and the United States Ombudsman Association recommend
standards to be adopted when instituting ombudsmen or modifying already existing
ombudsman offices.52 Moreover, the ABA’s website offers a definition of
47 Stanley V. Anderson, Ombudsman Papers: American Experience and Proposals
(Berkeley: Institute for Government Studies, University of California at Berkeley, 1969).
48 Rogers C. Cramton, “A Federal Ombudsman,” Duke Law Journal, vol. 1972, Apr. 1972,
pp. 1-14; Victor G. Rosenblum, “Handling Citizen Initiated Complaints: An Introductory
Study of Federal Agency Procedures and Practices,” Administrative Law Review, vol 26,
winter 1974, pp. 1-48; John T. Eliff, The Reform of FBI Intelligence Operations (Princeton,
N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979), p. 179-188; and Donald C. Rowat, The Ombudsman
Plan (New York: University Press of America, 1985).
49 Linda Gaglio, “Ombudsman,” Government Executive, vol. 23, Mar. 1991, pp. 36-39.
51 See, for example, Charles J. Morris, “Ombudspersons and the Limits of the General
Counsel’s Authority Under the National Labor Relations Act,” Labor Law Journal, vol. 47,
June 1996, pp. 347-355; and Bill Ong Hing, “Border Patrol Abuses: Evaluating Complaint
Procedures Available to Victims,” Georgetown Immigration Law Journal, vol. 9, fall 1995,
52 United States Ombudsman Association, “Governmental Ombudsman Standards,” Oct. 14
USOA_STANDARDS.pdf]. These standards, created in July 2000, expand on the ABA’s
1969 resolution defining the essential characteristics of ombudsmen. The Coalition of
ombudsman and a typology for its various iterations, separating them into four
distinct categories: classical, advocate, organizational, and executive.53 According
to the ABA, an ombudsman protects “the legitimate interests and rights of
individuals with respect to each other; individual rights against the excesses of public
and private bureaucracies; and those who are affected by and those who work within
these organizations.”54 Only some of the more specific ombudsman categories apply
directly to U.S. federal ombudsman offices, while others exist in the United States
only in a modified form.
The Coalition of Federal Ombudsmen has stressed that ombudsmen must be
“confidential [in receiving and responding to complaints], neutral and
independent.”55 The CFO also advocates a single, government-wide pay scale for all
federal ombudsman. In addition, the coalition seeks a statute mandating that all
federal ombudsmen — internal or external — constitute a separate, autonomous
office, and that they report directly to their agency heads.56
Differences Among Offices
Although most earlier studies are dated or limited to certain entities, these
efforts reveal a wide variety of complaint-handling mechanisms at the federal level.
Differences in the current collection of offices and positions that respond to
complaints, grievances, concerns, and questions from the public arise along a
number of distinct dimensions: their powers and duties, jurisdictions, locations,
controls, neutrality, resources, and use of electronic and traditional communications.
Variations among the offices are reflected in their titles: Federal Student Aid
Ombudsman; Medicare Beneficiary Ombudsman; Taxpayer Advocate; Ombudsman
at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; Federal Recovery Coordinators and
Transition Patient Advocates for wounded military personnel; Aviation Noise
Ombudsman; Environmental Protection Agency Public Liaison; Superfund
Ombudsman; Freedom of Information Act Office of Government Information
Federal Ombudsmen is currently creating a detailed update of this document, using
suggestions from ombudsmen working in a variety of federal agencies. The updated
document is expected to be published on the organization’s website in late 2008.
53 American Bar Association, “Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory News
Ombudsman Committee,” available at [http://www.abanet.org/adminlaw/ombuds/
54 American Bar Association, Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice,
Ombuds, available at [http://www.abanet.org/dch/committee.cfm?com=AL322500].
55 Coalition of Federal Ombudsmen, “Charter of the Coalition of Federal Ombudsmen,”
available at [http://www.federalombuds.ed.gov/].
56 Discussed at CFO meeting, Jan. 9, 2007, at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives national headquarters in Washington, DC.
Services and Public Liaisons; Construction Metrication Ombudsman; and Privacy
and Civil Liberties Officer or, alternatively, Civil Liberties and Civil Rights Officer.57
Reasons for Differences
The variations among the complaint-handling offices have emerged for a
number of reasons. These include the piecemeal fashion in which the offices were
created; the unique set of circumstances associated with each establishment; and
different establishing mechanisms (e.g., legislation or administrative directive, issued
by the agency head at his or her own volition or in response to a presidential
directive). Additional reasons for differences are the varied rationales accompanying
each construct. These range from protecting individual rights and liberties, to
safeguarding the health and welfare of the public, to assisting in determining an
individual’s tax obligations to the government. The rationales also extend to aiding
selective clientele, such as small businesses in obtaining government contracts and
private firms in converting to the metric system to meet federal construction
In addition to these reasons are different expectations for each office, ranging
from simply receiving and passing on complaints to relevant units within an agency,
to investigating such complaints independently, to reaching out to the public
proactively. Other explanations for the variations are the absence of a philosophical
consensus underlying the classic ombudsman concept as applied to the United States;
opposition to the creation of some ombudsman-like offices; and conflict over certain
powers, authorities, and responsibilities. These conditions have, on occasion,
resulted in initial compromises or later changes in the offices’ structure, location,
independence, and resources.
Consequently, existing federal complaint-handling offices vary with regard to
their basic characteristics — including powers and duties, jurisdiction, location,
controls, neutrality, resources, and communications. These differences, in turn, affect
independence, autonomy, and capacity.
Powers and Duties
The complaint-handling office could be empowered only to receive complaints
and pass them on to the organization in the agency responsible for the program or
operation. By comparison, the office could be authorized to follow up on grievances,
making recommendations for resolving a problem, or determining whether the
agency’s response is satisfactory. Still other ombudsman-like entities, beyond being
57 Federal agencies have been directed to establish “advocates for competition” in
procurement contracting. These positions are to be “responsible for challenging barriers to
and promoting full and open competition in the procurement of property and services by the
executive agency.” (41 U.S.C. § 418(a) and (b).) Such advocates, however, do not perform
the basic ombudsman-like activities, such as responding to individual complaints and
concerns. Instead, they play a broad advisory role in the agency, reviewing relevant
practices, procedures, and regulations and recommending changes to the senior procurement
executive, if these are seen as needed.
passive recipients of complaints, might adopt a proactive approach. They could, for
instance, be authorized to conduct surveys among persons or groups who receive a
government service or who are affected by an agency action, in order to identify a
perceived problem and determine how widespread and serious it is. The
Environmental Protection Agency Public Liaison can conduct independent
investigations into cases that prompt concerns of improper agency action. The office
does not have legal force, but it publishes its findings, offering the public a more
transparent view of the EPA.
Separately, a complaint-handling office could be authorized — or required —
to perform additional duties to educate the public and keep the agency head and
Congress informed. These could include notifying the agency head (not just the
bureau or program director) immediately about serious or widespread concerns;
issuing periodic reports summarizing the office’s findings, actions, and agency
responses to the agency head, Congress, and the public; and testifying before
congressional committees about the office’s findings, recommendations (if any), and
The jurisdictions of complaint-handling offices also differ, depending upon the
range of agencies and programs covered. An office’s jurisdiction could be limited
to a particular program administered by a single bureau within an agency or expanded
to all programs administered by the entire agency. The jurisdiction could also
encompass a set of related programs or operations that are carried out by several
The complaint-handling offices’ jurisdictions could differ on other grounds,
including whether they extend into the private sector. A jurisdiction could be
confined to the agency, per se, thus dealing only with complaints and concerns about
the conduct of its employees and its administration of programs; or it could be
extended, where appropriate, to private sector organizations or firms that the agency
The specific locations of complaint-handling offices could also vary. Offices
could be placed within agencies, as most are now, or exist independently of the
agencies where they have jurisdiction — like the Citizenship and Immigration
Services Ombudsman. Some ombudsman-like offices operate out of a centralized
federal government location, like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
ombudsman, while others have decentralized, regional offices, like the
Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Ombudsmen.
A single ombudsman-like office could be granted government-wide jurisdiction
and located in the Executive Office of the President. Although there is no such
comprehensive ombudsman in the federal government, a single office could serve as
a central clearinghouse for complaints and grievances affecting all federal agencies.
Additionally, such a complaint-handling office — if it were to exist under public law
— could be given greater control over its resources and more overall autonomy than
the typical agency-specific offices in the federal government. An alternative
arrangement would be to establish several complaint-handling offices, each with
jurisdiction over a number of related agencies. Under this plan, each office would
operate independently of the agencies about which it receives complaints.
Different types of controls might be applied to a complaint-handling office and
its head. Appointment and removal powers over the head of the office could vary.
He or she could be appointed and be removed in one of three ways, which would
affect the office’s independence. He or she could be (1) appointed by, and removed
by, the head of the agency — the usual way currently; (2) appointed by, and removed
by, the President alone; or (3) appointed by the President with the advice and consent
of the Senate, and removed by the President. Other controls over the office could
also be established to determine who in agency management would supervise the
office, to whom its head would report, and who would determine its resources.
Some ombudsman offices are created as neutral third parties that can facilitate
dispute resolution. Others, by contrast, are designed as advocates for the
complainant. The ABA, for example, called for a distinct category of “advocate
ombudsmen,” which includes offices like the National Taxpayer Advocate within the
Internal Revenue Service, and Veterans Affairs Patient Advocates.58 Other offices,
like the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman, are required to perform as neutral “fact-
finders” when looking into a complaint.
In May 2006, the CFO updated the ABA’s Standards for the Establishment and59
Operations of the Ombuds Offices. Both the CFO and ABA require an ombudsman
to perform as a neutral actor who “conducts inquiries and investigations in an60
impartial manner, free from initial bias and conflicts of interest.” Impartiality,
however, does not prohibit the ombudsman from advocating “within the entity for61
change where the process demonstrates a need for it.”
58 For more information on advocate ombudsmen, see the American Bar Association, “About
Advocate Ombudsman,” available at [http://www.abanet.org/adminlaw/ombuds/
advocateombudsme n.html ].
59 The American Bar Association, Standards for the Establishment and Operations of the
Ombuds Offices, available at [http://www.abanet.org/adminlaw/ombuds/115.pdf].
60 Coalition of Federal Ombudsmen, Standards for the Establishment and Operation of
Ombuds Offices, revised Feb. 2004, p. 3. This document is an update of the ABA’s Aug.
61 Ibid., p. 4.
Each office’s budget, staff, and other resources — and control over them —
could also differ, depending upon its statutory authority, range of duties and
responsibilities, degree of independence, and internal office priorities. For instance,
a complaint-handling office might invest heavily in computer technology — for
example, setting up its own website and inputting information from paper
correspondence into its own computerized data base — while other offices might
maintain a more traditional approach, such as receiving and responding to grievances
and questions primarily by mail, facsimile, and phone.
The office’s budget and resources could be controlled independently by agency
administration, be derived from the administrative and operating expenses of the
agency to which it is attached, or be given a line item in the agency’s appropriation
Hiring authority and practices could also differ — as could control of other
resources, such as office space, supplies, communications equipment, training
programs, and travel funds. In this regard, the head of the complaint-handling office
might possess specific authority that would enable him or her to control all such
resources. By contrast, the officer might not be granted such authority; in this case,
the head would have to rely, for instance, on existing agency personnel who would
rotate in and out of the office and on receiving office space, supplies, and equipment
at the discretion of agency management.
Electronic and Traditional Communications
Though many government agencies do not have a formal or institutionalized
public complaint-handling office, all have established ways, new or old, for the
general public to contact agencies. These include the Internet, as well as telephone
lines and the traditional mail system.
Development of E-government. The adoption and development of
electronic government (e-gov)62 have been both a cause and effect of the E-
Government Act of 2002.63 It was intended to “promote the use of the Internet and
other information technologies to provide increased opportunities for citizen
participation in Government ..., to provide citizen-centric Government information
62 A working definition of electronic government (e-gov) is “the use of information
technology to integrate government information and services for citizen, business,
government, and other institutional uses.” CRS Report RL34104, State E-Government
Strategies: Identifying Best Practices and Applications, by Jeffrey W. Seifert and Glenn J.
McLoughlin. For an overview of e-government in the United States and abroad, see Peter
Hernon, Rowena Cullen, and Harold C. Relyea, eds., Comparative Perspectives on E-
government: Serving Today and Building for Tomorrow (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press,
Inc., 2006). This volume examines such issues as access and security, citizen responses and
perspectives, government portals and websites, broadband Internet access and the digital
divide, and e-government’s accomplishments and potentialities.
63 P.L. 107-347; 116 Stat. 2890-2971.
and services ..., [and] to promote access to high quality Government information and
services across multiple channels.”64 E-gov, in general, and the E-Government Act,
in particular, have added new modes of communication between government and
citizens, and have increased the accessibility, speed, and efficiency of receiving and
responding to public inquiries.65
Despite these advances, some recent studies have discovered weaknesses and
limitations in several aspects of e-gov: what it currently does (e.g., primarily
providing information); how well it does it (declining levels of satisfaction); and
what it has been unable to do satisfactorily (particularly, progressing into the
“transactions stage,” referring to exchanges among entities in the same agency,
among agencies at the same level of government, among governments at different
levels, and among government agencies, private sector stakeholders, and the general
64 116 Stat. 2901. Some observers have seen a much different reason behind the adoption
of e-gov. Rather than to increase efficiency and accessibility, e-gov is a way to “reduce the
high costs associated with face-to-face service provision [and] ... compensate for the loss
of human workers and other resources,” which were the result of “deep budget cuts” in the
early and mid-1990s. H. Brinton Milward and Louise Ogilvie Snyder, “Electronic
Government: Linking Citizens to Public Organizations Through Technology,” Journal of
Public Administration Research and Theory, vol. 6, Apr. 1996, p. 264.
65 One of the goals of the 2002 E-Government Act (116 Stat. 2916-2917) was to improve the
accessibility and usability of government information. The Bush Administration’s views
on its e-gov initiatives are spelled out in U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Expanding
E-Government: Improved Service Delivery for the American People Using Information
Technology, Dec. 2005; and Report to the Congress on the Benefits of E-Governmentrd
Initiatives (3 annual), Feb. 2008; both available at [http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/egov].
An earlier exploration by Congress appeared in U.S. Congress, House Committee on
Government Reform, Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental
Relations, and the Census, Electronic Government: A Progress Report on the Successes andth
Challenges of Government-wide Information Technology Solutions, hearings, 108 Cong.,nd
66 Notwithstanding the apparent increased availability and use of e-gov, an independent
survey of government websites in 2008 found that public satisfaction with e-government has
continued to wane since mid-2007, dropping to its lowest level since 2005. According to
the study’s coordinator, the decrease might be the result of rising public expectations
coupled with uncertainty about the forthcoming election and accompanying government
transition less than a year away, rather than a decline of e-gov’s quality, utility, and
accessibility. American Consumer Satisfaction Index: E-Government Satisfaction Index,
Commentary and Analysis by Larry Freed, President and CEO, ForeSee Results, Mar. 18,
2008, available at [http://www.ForeSeeResults.com], pp. 2-4. See also, “Citizen Satisfaction
with E-Government Falls to Lowest in Three Years,” PA Times, vol. 31, Apr. 2008, pp. 1-2.
For further interpretations about this and other aspects of e-gov, see a symposium on “New
Perspectives on E-Government”; it discusses a number of weaknesses, limitations, and
challenges facing e-gov in its second decade: David Coursey and Donald F. Norris, “Models
of E-Government: Are They Correct?”; Yu-Che Chen and Kurt Thurmaier, “Advancing E-
Government: Financing Challenges and Opportunities”; Caroline J. Tolbert, et al.,
“Institutions, Policy Innovation, and E-Government in the American States”; and Mark D.
Robins, et al., “Citizens and Resource Allocation: Improving Decision Making with
Despite such growing pains, e-gov and the Internet have become prominent
features of the government-citizen interaction, including within the ombudsman and
complaint-handling function. Even with this advance, however, government-citizen
communications continue through traditional forms as well.
Websites and the Internet. The 2002 E-Government Act called upon67
federal agencies to establish domain directories for their websites. Many of these
are for general access, not necessarily for complaint handling specifically.
Nonetheless, several different websites — major and minor — demonstrate the range
In July 2003, the General Services Administration (GSA) unveiled USA
Services, which promised to answer all citizen inquiries — whether submitted by e-
mail, conventional mail, telephone, or in-person — within two days. The initiative68
was described as a “comprehensive ‘customer service department’” for citizens.
USAServices.gov serves as the initiative’s web portal and offers citizens and
agencies assistance in communication and information access. Additionally, the
federal government offers an Internet gateway to all of its agencies and services:
USA.gov, formerly known as both WebGov and FirstGov. The website lists all
government agencies, and offers links to each one’s website, along with links to state,
local, and tribal government websites. Citizens, visitors, employees, and businesses
are offered their own entry portals into the website through a web page designed to
offer information and services that would be most pertinent to that user. The site also
includes a link to the Federal Citizen Information Center,69 which offers a list of
agencies the public can use to register complaints against private businesses.
Although most agencies and departments have websites that outline their
mission and duties, there remains a general dearth of formal agency-wide
ombudsman-like offices, even at those that serve a substantial number of people.
Instead, agencies have adopted other similar offices for more specialized or select
clientele. The Social Security Administration (SSA), for example, has a toll-free
telephone number (1-800-772-1213 or TTY 1-800-325-0778) for complaints and an70
online complaint form. The SSA also has a website that informs members of the
public of various administrative services that are available online, on the phone, or
Interactive Web-Based Citizen Participation,” Public Administration Review, May/June
67 P.L. 107-347; 116 Stat. 2916-2917.
68 U.S. General Services Administration, “GSA Launches USA Services: New Initiative
Rapidly Connects Citizens with the Federal Government Service; Answers Citizens’ Web,
E-mail and Telephone Questions in Two Days or Less,” at [http://www.gsa.gov/
Portal/gsa/ep/contentV iew.do?contentT ype=GSA_BASIC&contentId=8953&noc=T ].
69 Federal Citizen Information Center, “Filing a Complaint,” available at
70 Social Security Online, “Comments and Feedback,” available at
[ h t t p : / / www.s s a .gov/ f e e dba c k/ c ompl a i nt s .ht m] .
at their offices.71 Online, for example, clients can calculate their benefits or apply for
help with Medicare prescription drug costs. The website also includes maps and
directions to local offices. If clients are dissatisfied with the response to their
complaints — whether made over the phone or at the local SSA office — they may
appeal to a higher level of the SSA.72
The Department of Transportation hosts an Aviation Consumer Protection
Division (ACPD) that serves as a last resort for airline consumers who are
dissatisfied with service and attempts by a company to remedy the problem.73 The
ACPD clearly states that the individual airlines are better suited to resolving disputes
with consumers, but the division offers consumers the opportunity to have their
complaints published in the division’s monthly Report of Consumer Complaints, as
well as to register the complaints in the federal database. Although this service
handles grievances about private sector operations, for the most part, it also responds
to consumer complaints that involve an aviation regulatory issue. Complaints about
airline safety are channeled to the Federal Aviation Administration’s hotline,74 while
transportation security issues are handled in-house or routed to the Transportation
Security Administration in the Department of Homeland Security.75
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has four different, topically
organized online complaint forms available for consumers.76 The complaint topics
are general complaints, obscenity and indecency, slamming,77 and telemarketing.
Consumers who do not have online access may send complaints and supporting
documentation via mail.78
71 U.S. Social Security Administration, “Do you need an appointment?” Social Security
Administration, available at [http://www.socialsecurity.gov/appointment.htm].
72 U.S. Social Security Administration, Social Security Online - Social Security
Organizational Structure and Functional Information, available at
[ h t t p : / / www.s s a .gov/ o r g/ o r goi g.ht m] .
73 Complaints about general airline service, including late departures or being bumped from
a flight, can be registered via telephone (202-366-2220; TTY 202-366-0511); online at
[http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/escomplaint/es.cfm]; or by mail (Aviation Consumer
Protection Division, C-75, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Ave., S.E.,
Washington, DC 20590).
74 Toll-free line: 1-800-TELL-FAA.
75 For more information, including a mailing address and the types of security issues the
FAA oversees, see [http://www.faa.gov/passengers/travel_problems/consumer_hotline/].
TSA accepts complaints via a toll-free hotline (1-866-289-9673) or e-mail
76 The complaint-filing page is available at [http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html].
77 According to the FCC, “slamming” is “the illegal practice of changing a consumer’s
telephone service ... without permission.” See [http://www.fcc.gov/slamming/].
78 The e-mail addresses for the FCC follow: (1) its websites, email@example.com and
firstname.lastname@example.org for slamming complaints; (2) its facsimile phone numbers,
1-888-CALL-FCC and 1-888-TELL-FCC for telephone typewriter (TTY). A mediation
Similarly, other “high-impact” federal agencies provide e-mail links or online
forms for citizens or customers to use when lodging their complaints.79 The U.S.
Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website, for example, includes a toll-free
customer hotline and online complaint forms for the general public, doctors, fire
investigators, police, or others to use to report an injury or death caused by a
product.80 Although such complaints are usually generated by private sector
products, the submissions could also involve the Commission’s regulatory and
Another site for e-gov communications is [http://www.business.gov/].
Launched in 2004 as the official business link to the U.S. government, it is managed
by the Small Business Administration in partnership with 21 other federal agencies.81
Benefits and Concerns. Use of the Internet for government-citizen
communications, especially for complaint handling, offers benefits, while at the same
time, raising concerns.
Benefits. The potential of the Internet for making complaint handling more
efficient and effective is significant. Ideally, government web portals could provide
“one stop” for inputting and accessing complaint-related information for an entire
agency — or at least a particular office or program. This, in turn, could lead to
increased sharing of information and data within and among federal agencies,
between the federal government and state and local governments, and between the
federal government and private sector organizations and the general public. This
development might also encourage standardization in receiving and responding to
complaints, as well as other operational and organizational characteristics of
ombudsman-like offices, including resources and independence.
Concerns. Nonetheless, concerns exist with regard to the inclusiveness,
accessibility, and availability of Internet-based information and the government’s
responsiveness to complaints. Reflective of this is the “digital divide,” which sees
the population separated into “haves and have-nots” in terms of Internet access and
use.82 This divide separates those with requisite computer skills, resources, and
specialist assists with complainants.
79 According to a 2000 GAO letter, 32 “high-impact” organizations handle about 90% of the
federal government’s contact with the public. U.S. General Accounting Office, Internet:
Federal Web-based Complaint Handling, GAO letter AIMD-00-238R, July 7, 2000, pp. 1-2.
80 Hotline at 800-638-2772 and TTY 800-638-8270; forms available at
[ h t t p : / / www.c p s c .gov/ t a l k.ht ml ] .
81 Rob Kleinsteuber, “Business.gov Unveils New Search Features,” The Small Business
Advocate, Feb. 2008, p. 3.
82 The E-Government Act of 2002, recognizing “disparities in access to the Internet,”
authorized a study to make recommendations to correct this. P.L. 107-347; 116 Stat. 2944-
2945. For differing views of the digital divide, see Pippa Norris, Digital Divide: Civic
Engagement, Information Poverty, and the Internet Worldwide (New York: Cambridge
Internet access from those without these. The latter group lacks the capability to
issue complaints and comments through this medium and to discover what
information is held in Internet-based data banks.
Another concern about reliance on the Internet for complaint handling is that it
might be manipulated. For instance, an organized interest group might encourage its
membership to flood a website with complaints — substantiated or not, witnessed
first-hand or not — about a particular agency or program. Although this same
problem could arise by way of other means of communications (mail or telephone,
for example), these traditional avenues would be more cumbersome, more difficult,
and possibly more costly to use. In effect, it would be easier to mount massive
attacks through the Internet than through more traditional communications media.
Use of the Internet as a source for collecting public complaints also prompts
worries about maintaining the anonymity of the complainant. These worries might
be mitigated, to a degree, through the rise in toll-free hotlines and centralized
websites like USA.gov, which could allow for anonymous reporting.
Although there is no authoritative, comprehensive, detailed survey of current
federal complaint-handling offices, earlier studies (even if dated and limited), along
with the coverage here, provide useful information with which to describe, examine,
and compare them. One observation, for instance, is that such offices appear to be
growing in number, prominence, and range of activities and duties.
As noted throughout this report, federal complaint-handling offices exhibit
different forms, capacities, and designations. The variations range from the
individual office’s powers, resources, duties, and functions, to its jurisdiction,
location, controls, neutrality, and adoption of new technologies — notably the
Internet. The activities, services, and duties of ombudsman-like entities, for instance,
cross a wide spectrum, from the nearly passive to the proactive. The range extends
from simply receiving a complaint and passing it on to appropriate offices; to
following up on it and notifying the complainant of the results; to helping resolve
disputes between the agency and complainant. Some offices report findings to
agency officials, Congress, and/or the public, while others do not. Some conduct
outreach efforts to the public or select groups, while others do not. A few even
embark on preemptive efforts — that is, they intervene on behalf of clientele from
the beginning to the end of a service, thereby reducing, if not preventing, problems
— while most do not.
The variations among the offices reflect their piecemeal establishment — at
different times, for different reasons, and for different purposes, duties, and
functions. Some, for instance, are designed to assist a particular clientele who
University Press, 2001); and Benjamin M. Compaine, ed., The Digital Divide: Facing a
Crisis or Creating a Myth? (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001).
conduct business with an agency or who are the primary recipients of its services.
Other entities may be intended to meet the needs of the public at large or broad
sectors of it. Variations also arise over time and across policy areas, as the needs and
demands of government and society change. Recent constructs demonstrate this.
The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs Federal Recovery Coordinators
for wounded military veterans were prompted by instances of inadequate medical
care. And the creation of a Privacy Officer and an Officer for Civil Rights and Civil
Liberties in the Homeland Security Department was due to concerns about the
possible intrusiveness and potential impact of the government’s new anti-terrorism
Efforts to establish a government-wide ombudsman, create complaint-handling
offices throughout the executive branch, and/or standardize such entities have existed
since the mid-1960s. None of these one-size-fits-all initiatives, however, has been
enacted into law. Instead, the legislative and administrative solutions — to meet the
challenge of responding to a large and growing number of inquiries, grievances, and
concerns from the public — have arisen on an ad hoc basis, focusing on particular
agencies and specific problem areas.83 Even in the few cases where a single statute
has called for similar offices in a number of agencies — such as Freedom Of
Information Act (FOIA) pubic liaisons, construction metrication ombudsmen, and
banking agency ombudsmen — these entities have been highly specialized,
responding to a select clientele in a distinct policy area.
As a consequence of their varied attributes and development, ombudsman-like
entities vary in their roles, capabilities, and independence. These constructs thus
reflect certain fundamental characteristics of American national government:
dispersed and decentralized power, the absence of uniformity and standardization
among similar institutions, and competition between the executive and legislature for
control over government organizations and operations.
83 In addition to the examples covered in this report, more than 100 bills in the 110th
Congress have incorporated provisions for an “ombudsman” or “ombudsmen.” The list is
available at [http://www.congress.gov/cgi-lis/query].
Appendix. Examples of Ombudsman-like Entities
American National Red Cross
Although it is not a federal government agency, the American National Red
Cross (ANRC) is an organization chartered by public law.84 Its charter established
the basic purposes of the organization, one of which is serving as a disaster relief
organization for the United States.
Congress also mandated, in the Governance Modernization Act of 2007,85 an
ANRC Ombudsman, who began operating in October 2007. Besides the
Ombudsman, the office presently consists of three positions: two analysts, who
compile annual reports to Congress and the ANRC Board of Governors, and an
ombudsman service representative, who receives incoming telephone complaints.86
While the ombudsman position was created by Congress, the duties of the office
have been delineated by the organization’s Board of Governors. The post is to serve
as a neutral party that
!provides a voluntary, confidential, and informal process to facilitate
fair and equitable resolutions to problems brought before it; and
!explores a range of alternatives or options to resolve the problems.87
The position serves as both an internal and external ombudsman, fielding complaints
from employees, blood donors, volunteers, financial donors, disaster victims, and
other Red Cross clients.88
84 A charter is a document that legally establishes a corporation and its most fundamental
characteristics, such as its legal purpose, basic governance structure, and means of public
accountability. The ANRC’s charter is codified at 36 U.S.C. § 300101. Other duties and
charges related to the federal government are at 10 U.S.C. § 2602; 22 U.S.C. § 2601 note;
and 42 U.S.C. § 5152 and 5153. These have been modified recently with regard to directing
mass care following disasters, as described in U.S. Government Accountability Office,
National Disaster Response, GAO Report GAO-08-369 (Washington: 2008). For additional
information on the unusual establishment of the ANRC, as an independent organization with
statutory responsibilities to the government, see CRS Report RL33314, The Congressional
Charter of the American National Red Cross: Overview, History, and Analysis, by Kevin
85 P.L. 110-26; 121 Stat. 110.
86 Information provided by telephone by Corporate Ombudsman Beverly Ortega Babers, Jan.
87 American Red Cross, “The American Red Cross Code of Business and Ethics Conduct,”
available at [http://www.redcross.org/static/file_cont5875_lang0_2860.pdf].
88 American Red Cross, “Ombudsman to Strengthen ‘Sacred Trust’ with Public,” press
release, Oct. 27, 2007, available at [http://www.abanet.org/adminlaw/ombuds/115.pdf].
Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census,
Small Business Ombudsman
In the Department of Commerce, the Bureau of the Census houses an Office of
the Small Business Ombudsman. It is the “primary advocate between the small
business community and the Census Bureau and ... provide[s] services and
opportunities for the small business community in an effort to simplify and reduce89
the reporting burden on requested forms.” As such, the Ombudsman
!provides technical assistance through a small business toll free
number and a small business website;
!provides Internet assistance for small businesses in completing
report forms; and
!expands the use of electronic reporting, data sharing, and the use of
Department of Defense
The Department of Defense (DOD) has a number of different ombudsman-like
offices. Most of these, however, are “internal; “that is, the offices and positions, such
as the Federal Recovery Coordinators, provide services to military and civilian
personnel within the department. Nonetheless, DOD also has several different types
of external ombudsman-like offices, as the following examples illustrate:
!Base Transition Coordinators (BTCs) attached to individual military
bases undergoing realignments and closings (BRAC), whose
involvement ends with the completion of the base closure and reuse;
!Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy (DPAP) Ombudsman,
whose jurisdiction covers both domestic and foreign contractors;
!Ombudsman of the Employer Support of the National Guard and
Reserve (ESGR), a permanent office whose participation on behalf
of eligible service personnel might be a one-time event or recurrent;
!select ombudsmen operating at Navy medical centers, whose
voluntary participation on behalf of family members of patients at
individual command centers might be short-term and sporadic or
long-term and continuous.
Base Transition Coordinators for Military Base Reuse. Introducing
its community guide to military base reuse, the Department of Defense recognizes
that it “has been closing military bases and assisting Defense-impacted communities
89 U.S. Census Bureau, Office of the Small Business Ombudsman, Mission, available at
[ h t t p : / / www.census.go v/ eos/ www/ osbonew/ mi ssi on.ht ml ] .
through its Defense Economic Adjustment Program for more than 35 years.”90 The
program has increased in prominence most recently, because of the Base
Realignment and Closing (BRAC) initiative affecting a large number of military
bases. Among the many local, state, and federal entities involved in each case is a
DOD Base Transition Coordinator (BTC), described as “the local, on-site, Federal
point of contact who works as an ombudsman for the community.”91 As such, the
BTC “is a key contact, problem solver and information source for the local
community, especially in relation to environmental cleanup and property disposal.”92
Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy Ombudsman. The role
of the DPAP Ombudsman is to assist companies, both domestic and foreign,
interested in performing contracts to satisfy DOD requirements, following the
instructions of the DPAP Contract Policy and International Contracting
Directorate.93 In the case of a foreign company, it may contact the Ombudsman if the
company “has difficulty fully understanding contracting rules and regulations, or if
it thinks it was unfairly excluded from defense procurement....”94 The DPAP
Ombudsman also provides contact information for the benefit of U.S. companies in
doing business with various foreign governments.
Employer Support of the National Guard and Reserve Ombudsman.
The Employer Support of the National Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Ombudsman is
designed to ensure smooth transitions for soldiers returning from their military duty
by ensuring that they return to their civilian jobs — or equivalent positions —
without complication. This assignment results in the ESGR being a combination of
an internal ombudsman (for active duty military personnel) as well as an external
ombudsman (for discharged personnel reentering the private sector).
President Richard M. Nixon established the ESGR in 1971 as a “conduit
between the DOD and the nation’s employers when the United States changed to an
all-volunteer force,” by ensuring that service members would have their prior civilian
jobs or equivalent jobs when they returned to their homes.95 In 1994, Congress
passed the Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
(USERRA). Its purposes are
(1) to encourage noncareer service in the uniformed services by eliminating or
minimizing the disadvantages to civilian careers and employment which can
result from such service; (2) to minimize the disruption to the lives of persons
performing service in the uniformed services as well as to their employers, their
90 U.S. Department of Defense, Office of Economic Adjustment, Community Guide to Base
Reuse (Washington: DOD, 2007), p. 1.
91 Ibid., p. 5; see also pp. A-1, and A-2.
92 Ibid., p. 5.
93 DPAP, “Contract Policy and International Contracting,” available at
[http://www.acq.osd.mil/dpap/ cpic/indx/html ]
95 Information provided via e-mail by Commander Robert Lyon, Chief of Ombudsman
fellow employees, and their communities, by providing for the prompt
reemployment of such persons upon their completion of such service, and (3) to
prohibit discrimination against persons because of their service in the uniformed96
The ESGR is currently tasked to
!recognize outstanding support from employers of service members;
!increase awareness of the law; and
!resolve employment conflicts through informal mediation.97
More than 900 ombudsmen are located within 56 ESGR “field committees” that
help resolve disputes between employers and employees. Complaints against an
employer can be filed online.98 If the ombudsman is not making progress toward the
resolution of a dispute within seven days, the case is referred to the Department of
Labor.99 The ombudsmen, however, report their findings and suggestions to the
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. A service member
seeking to nominate his or her employer for outstanding service can fill out an online100
nomination form at the ESGR website.
NMCP Navy Family Ombudsman. The Navy Family Ombudsman,
operating out of the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP), assists families of
military personnel needing medical services there.101 The Ombudsman duties include
providing information, referrals, and contacts with regard to complaints, concerns,
and questions. The Ombudsman, “an officially appointed volunteer,” serves as: the
primary communications link between families and the command; the channel of
official information from the command; and a link to related services and facilities,
including legal assistance, military medical facilities, professional counseling, and
various relief societies.102 Through outreach programs and other ways, the
Ombudsman also acts “as an advocate for the command’s families.”103
96 38 U.S.C. § 4301. The full enactment (38 U.S.C. § 4301-4333) spells out the
requirements, including reemployment rights, health plans, pension benefit plans, reports,
and outreach matters.
97 Information provided by e-mail by Commander Robert Lyon, Chief of Ombudsman
Services, Jan. 17, 2008, contact at USERRA@osd.mil.
98 Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, “ESGR USERRA Complaint Request Form
99 Ibid. Cases that do not involve employee wages are given 14 days to progress toward
100 Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, “Mainpage,” available at
[ h t t p : / / www.e s gr .ne t / ] .
101 U.S. Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Ombudsman, The Role of the NMCP Command
Ombudsman, available at [http://www-nmcp.med.navy.mil/ombudsman/role.asp].
USNHGUAM Ombudsman. The Ombudsman attached to the U.S. Navy
Hospital in Guam is, like the one at the NMCP, a volunteer, trained to “offer support
and guidance to command families and acts as an official liaison between command
and the command families.”104 As such, the Ombudsman serves as the primary link
between the command families and the command; serves as a communicator of
information between the two; communicates regularly with command families, via
newsletters, careline, phone tree, and e-mail; provides information and outreach to
family members; interacts and cooperates with relevant organizations, including the
American Red Cross as well as appropriate military legal and medical treatment
entities; refers individuals in need of professional assistance to appropriate resources105
(for counseling, for instance); and acts as an advocate for command families.
Department of Education Federal Student Aid Ombudsman
The Department of Education houses the Federal Student Aid (FSA)
Ombudsman. Created in 1998 by amendments to the 1965 Act of Higher
Education,106 the FSA Ombudsman’s office received its first cases in late September107
1999. Appointed by the FSA’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), the FSA
Ombudsman serves as a neutral fact-finder in disputes between students with loans
and the FSA. The officer serves at the discretion of the COO (there is no fixed term
for the position) and reports directly to the COO. The Ombudsman can recommend
resolutions, but cannot compel the FSA to overturn its previous decisions. The
service is free, but operates only as a last resort — provided the FSA has not already
begun legal proceedings against a person receiving the loan.
Though the Ombudsman cannot enforce his or her decisions, the position was
!resolve disputes from a neutral, independent viewpoint;
!informally conduct impartial fact-finding about complaints;
!recommend solutions (without the authority to reverse decisions);
!work to bring about changes that will help prevent future problems
for other student loan borrowers; and
!research problems and determine whether the complainants have
been treated fairly.108
104 U.S. Naval Hospital Guam, Ombudsman, “History of the Ombudsman Program”
(OPNAV Instruction 1750.1), available at [http://www.usnhguam.med.navy.mil/us/
ombudsma n/default.htm] .
106 P.L. 105-244; codified at 20 U.S.C. § 1018.
107 U.S. Department of Education, “FSA Ombudsman,” available at
[http://www.ombudsma n.ed.gov/about/about.html ].
108 U.S. Department of Education, “About the FSA Ombudsman,” available at
[http://www.ombudsma n.ed.gov/about/about.html ].
If the Ombudsman determines that a complaint is justified, he or she is to help a
student negotiate with the agency or other parties involved in the dispute.109
Prior to requesting help from the FSA Ombudsman, a person seeking assistance
is asked to review an online checklist of other options for resolving the dispute. If
the person then determines himself or herself qualified for ombudsman assistance,
he or she may send a letter to the office, telephone, or fill out the online Ombudsman
Assistance Request Form.110 The ombudsman office does not assist the public in
filling out loan forms, nor does it help find ways to pay off loans.
Department of Health and Human Services
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) houses a number of
distinct complaint-handling and client-assistance offices. Among them are the
Food and Drug Administration Ombudsman. When Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) employees were found to be inadequately performing their
duties in reviewing pre-market generic drug applications, the commissioner issued111
a “managerial fiat” creating the FDA Office of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman
provides several services, including the following:
!reviews marketing or investigational applications;
!provides information on import or export issues;
!offers explanations in response to citizen petitions or general
!ensures a fair hearing of claims of unfair or unequal treatment.112
The office also serves as the FDA’s Product Jurisdiction Officer, who
determines the jurisdiction of a product headed for review if the jurisdiction is
questionable. The office, however, predominantly handles complaints about
regulatory issues or FDA policies.
Long-term Care Ombudsman. The Long-term Care Ombudsman (LTCO)
began as a demonstration program in 1972, but was mandated by statute in the Older
Americans Act, which is currently administered by the Administration on Aging
(AOA).113 The LTCO office consists of more than 1,000 paid, and nearly 14,000
110 U.S. Department of Education, “Contact the FSA Ombudsman,” available at
[http://www.ombudsma n.ed.gov/about/contactus.html ].
111 Lubbers, Report to the National Taxpayer Advocate, Independent Advocacy Agencies
Within Agencies, pp. 16-17.
112 U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “When to Contact the Office of Ombudsman,”
available at [http://www.fda.gov/oc/ombudsman/whencon.htm].
113 P.L. 102-375; 106 Stat. 1195. Though the original Older Americans Act became law in
1965, the 1992 amendments created Title VII, which called for “Vulnerable Elder Rights
volunteer, staffers, who are located in the 50 states and three additional locales —
Washington, DC, Guam, and Puerto Rico.114 Serving an estimated 280,000 people
per year, the ombudsman
!identifies, investigates, and resolves complaints made by, or on
behalf of, residents;
!provides information to residents about long-term care services;
!represents the interests of residents before governmental agencies
and seek administrative, legal, and other remedies to protect
!analyzes, comments on, and recommends changes in laws and
regulations pertaining to the health, safety, welfare, and the rights of
!educates and informs consumers and the general public regarding
issues and concerns related to long-term care, and facilitates public
comment on laws, regulations, policies, and actions;
!promotes the development of citizen organizations to participate in
!provides technical support for the development of resident and
family councils to protect the well-being and rights of residents; and
!advocates for changes to improve residents’ quality of life and
LTC ombudsmen are a blend of state and federal oversight. Though each state
ombudsman office operates differently, most house their Office of the State LTC
Ombudsman within the individual state’s unit on aging. The National Long Term
Care Ombudsman Resource Center offers “support, technical assistance and training
to the State Long Term Care Ombudsman Programs and their statewide networks of
almost 600 regional (local) programs.”116 The ombudsmen tread a line between
acting as neutral fact-finders and as advocates for older Americans. Additionally, the
ombudsmen often deal with third party private entities — an apparent rarity for
federal government ombudsmen.
Medicare Beneficiary Ombudsman. Created by the Medicare Prescription117
Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, the Medicare Beneficiary
Ombudsman is intended to ensure that those eligible for Medicare have reliable and
current information about
114 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging, “Elder Rights
and Resources,” available at [http://www.aoa.gov/eldfam/Elder_Rights/LTC/LTC.asp].
116 U.S. Office of Management and Budget, “National Long Term Care Ombudsman
Resource Center,” available at [http://www.ltcombudsman.org/ombpublic/
117 P.L. 108-173; 117 Stat. 2066.
!their Medicare benefits and whether they have the information
needed to make good health care decisions;
!their rights and protections under the Medicare Program; and
!the procedures for getting problems and disputes resolved.118
The Ombudsman is to aid Medicare recipients in filing appeals if they believe
their insurance did not pay proper amounts for their medical services. Recipients can
also file complaints or ask for help joining or leaving a given Medicare program.
The job of the Ombudsman requires him or her to take an overview of the Medicare
system and ensure that the appeals process is operating properly at all government
levels.119 The officer reports to both the Medicare Administrator and the Director of
the Office of External Affairs, and is also required to submit an annual report to
Specialized Jurisdictional Ombudsmen. The FDA also has four
additional ombudsmen who serve as the points of contact for specific public
complaints connected to the subject of their jurisdiction. The specialized
ombudsmen are located at four centers:
!Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER);
!Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER);
!Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH); and
!Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) Ombudsman
If any of them cannot resolve or remedy a complaint, the issue is to be sent to
the FDA Office of Ombudsman.
Department of Homeland Security
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) houses a number of ombudsman-
like offices. In addition to several connected with immigration and transportation
matters, three others are an outgrowth of the authorities and responsibilities that the
department received under legislation dealing with anti-terrorism. The 2004
Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA), importantly, gave
additional duties to the Privacy Officer and Officer for Civil Rights and Civil
Liberties, as well as the inspector general, in the Department of Homeland
118 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, How the Medicare Beneficiary
Ombudsman Works for You, available at [http://www.medicare.gov/Publications/Pubs/
119 Information provided by telephone by the Medicare Ombudsman, Daniel Schreiner, Dec.
Security.120 All three entities originated in the Homeland Security Act of 2002,
which established the department.121
Privacy Officer. The Privacy Officer’s “mission is to minimize the impact on
the individual’s privacy, particularly the individual’s personal information and
dignity, while achieving the mission of the Department of Homeland Security.”122
According to DHS, to meet this end, the Officer, who reports directly to the
!requires compliance with the letter and spirit of federal laws
!centralizes Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act operations
within the Privacy Office to provide policy and programmatic
oversight and support operational implementation within the
!provides education and outreach to build a culture of privacy and
adherence to fair information principles across the department;
!communicates with the public through published materials, formal
notices, public workshops, and meetings; and
!coordinates with the Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, to
ensure that relevant programs, policies, and procedures are
addressed in an integrated and comprehensive manner and that123
Congress receives appropriate reports.
Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. The mission of the DHS
Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (OCRCL) is to “protect civil rights and
civil liberties and to support homeland security by providing the Department with
constructive advice on the full range of civil rights and civil liberties issues the
120 P.L. 110-181; 118 Stat. 3867-3869. Notwithstanding these protective entities, concerns
have arisen in Congress and elsewhere over the Department’s domestic intelligence
program; attention has focused, for instance, on a new National Applications Office, which
promotes the use of overhead surveillance for homeland security purposes. See letter to
Hon. Michael Chertoff, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, regarding the National
Applications Office, from Hon. Bennie Thompson, Chairman, House Committee on
Homeland Security; Hon. Jane Harman, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Intelligence; and
Hon. Christopher Carney, Chairman, Subcommittee on Management, Investigations, and
Oversight, Apr. 7, 2008. See also Siobhan Gorman, “Privacy Fears Threaten Satellite
Program,” Wall Street Journal, Apr. 8, 2008, p. 1.
121 P.L. 107-296; 116 Stat. 2135.
122 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “The Privacy Office of the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security,” available at [http://www.dhs.gov/xabout/structure/
editorial_0338.shtm], p. 1. Statutory authority is at 6 U.S.C. § 142, as amended by P.L.
123 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “The Privacy Office of the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security,” available at [http://www.dhs.gov/xabout/structure/
editorial_0338.shtm], p. 1; and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “DHS Privacy
Office — About the Privacy Office,” available at [http://www.dhs.gov/xabout/structure/
Department will face, and by serving as an information and communication channel
with the public regarding all aspects of these issues.”124
According to its statutory authority, the OCRCL is to
!review and assess information concerning abuses of civil rights, civil
liberties, and profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion, by
employees and officials of DHS;
!make public through the Internet, radio, television, or newspaper
advertisements information on the responsibilities and functions of,
and how to contact, the OCRCL;
!help the DHS Secretary, directorates, and offices of DHS to develop,
implement, and periodically review DHS policies and procedures to
ensure that the protection of civil rights and civil liberties is
appropriately incorporated into DHS programs and activities;
!oversee compliance with constitutional, statutory, regulatory, policy,
and other requirements relating to the civil rights and civil liberties
of individuals affected by the programs and activities of DHS;
!coordinate with the Privacy Officer to ensure that programs, policies,
and procedures involving civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy
considerations are addressed in an integrated and comprehensive
manner; and that Congress receives appropriate reports regarding
such programs, policies, and procedures; and
!investigate complaints and information indicating possible abuses of
civil rights or civil liberties, unless the inspector general of the
Department determines that any such complaint or information
should be investigated by the inspector general.125
Office of Inspector General. The third component, the inspector general
in the Department of Homeland Security, has been given certain ombudsman-like
responsibilities (similar to those required of the IG in the Department of Justice).
The DHS IG is to
!receive and review complaints and information from any source
alleging abuses of civil rights and liberties by DHS officials and
employees, including contractors;
!initiate investigations of such alleged abuses;
!consult with and refer investigations which the IG decides not to
investigate to the Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties; and
124 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “About the Office for Civil Rights and Civil
Liberties,” and “Report to Congress on Implementation of Section 705 of the Homeland
Security Act and the Establishment of the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties,” June
125 6 U.S.C. § 345(a), as amended by P.L. 108-458; 118 Stat. 3867.
!publicize and provide convenient public access to information
regarding the procedures to file complaints and the status of
corrective action taken by the Department.126
Transportation Security Administration Office of Civil Rights and
Liberties. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) operates two distinct127
ombudsman-like offices. One handles internal matters, for the most part, while the
other deals with external complaints.
Most public inquiries and concerns are handled by the Office of Civil Rights and
Liberties in the External Compliance Division of TSA. The Office’s mission is:
!to ensure that the civil rights and liberties of the traveling public are
respected throughout screening processes, without compromising
!to ensure that agency processes and procedures do not discriminate
against the traveling public, and respect the constitutional freedoms
of the traveling public;
!to ensure that the External Compliance Division meets its mission
by providing civil rights guidance and services to TSA program
offices, including security offices, technology offices, and
communications offices; and
!to review TSA policies and procedures to ensure that the civil rights
and liberties of the traveling public are taken into account.128
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman.
The 2002 Homeland Security Act created the United States Citizenship and
Immigration Services (USCIS) Ombudsman.129 Unlike most other ombudsman-like
offices in the federal government, the USCIS Ombudsman operates separately from
the agency about which it receives complaints. The Ombudsman, instead, is located
under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security and reports to the DHS
Secretary or Deputy Secretary, not to a USCIS official. The USCIS Ombudsman’s
mission, as specified in its establishing legislation, is threefold:
!assist individuals and employers in resolving problems with USCIS;
126 5 U.S.C. Appendix, as amended by P.L. 108-458; 118 Stat. 3868. The DHS inspector
general, moreover, is required to report semi-annually to the Secretary and Congress, by the
IG Act of 1978, as amended (5 U.S.C. Appendix). The inspector general in DHS appears
to be one of three, among the nearly 60 IGs under the Inspector General Act of 1978, to have
been given ombudsman-related responsibilities. The other two are in the Department of
Justice and Environmental Protection Agency.
127 The TSA Office of the Ombudsman operates primarily internally, handling workplace
related problems, issues, and concerns. U.S. Transportation Security Administration,
Ombudsman, Helping You Find Solutions, available at [http://www.tsa.gov/join/benefits/
careers_benefits_ombudsman.shtm]. Contact at TSA.OCR-ExternalCompliance@dhs.gov.
128 U.S. Transportation Security Administration, External Compliance Division, Civil Rights
for Travelers, available at [http://www.tsa.gov/what_we_do/civilrights/travelers.shtm].
129 P.L. 107-296; codified at 6 U.S.C. § 272.
!identify areas in which individuals and employers have problems
dealing with USCIS; and
!propose changes to mitigate identified problems.130
A client seeking Ombudsman services may fill out an online form and mail it
to the USCIS Washington, DC, office, where it is to be reviewed.131 Potential clients
should receive a response to their case within 45 days. As with other complaint-
handling offices, complainants may leave anonymous postings on the office’s
website. Like the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman, the USCIS Ombudsman can
neither overturn the agency’s decisions nor make exceptions to its regulations. The
Ombudsman may, however, facilitate a resolution and offer formal and informal
recommendations to USCIS to help it serve patrons. The office also submits an
annual report to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
Unlike offices that act as conduits only, the USCIS Ombudsman serves as an
advocate for the complainants — including those experiencing delays because of the
backlogs in processing immigration requests. The office also conducts outreach
programs, including teleconferences and site visits. It is attempting, moreover, to
create an online form that can be submitted via the Internet to expedite complaint
processing, as well as establish a Virtual Ombudsman Office online that would offer
a way to eliminate costly data entry.132
Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs,
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Office of Insular
Affairs in the Department of the Interior (DOI) has an affiliated Ombudsman with a
confined jurisdiction and clientele: the Ombudsman is charged with providing
“assistance to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ 30,000 [foreign]133
workers with labor and immigration complaints.” Often known as the Federal
Ombudsman, the office was established to assist foreign workers to gain a better
understanding of the laws and policies affecting them. In so doing, according to a
press release, the Ombudsman’s office “works hand-in-hand with the CNMI’s
Department of Labor and Immigration, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the
130 6 U.S.C. § 272. See also U.S. Department of Homeland Security, USCIS Ombudsman,
Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman Annual Report to Congress 2008, pp. v-
vii and 1, available at [http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/CISOMB_Annual_
Report_2008.pdf]. Further contact information is available at email@example.com or
131 DHS Form 7001, available at [http://www.dhs.gov/cisombudsman].
132 The office expects “to have a Virtual Ombudsman pilot program in place before the end
of the fiscal year.” USCIS Ombudsman, 2008 Annual Report, pp. v. For a further
description of its outreach program, see ibid., pp. 73-75.
133 U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs, “Federal Ombudsman’s
Office,” p. 1, available at [http://www.doi.gov/oia/Firstpginfo/Ombudsman.htm]. To carry
out its duties, the office employs a staff of professional caseworkers/interpreters who speak
Mandarin, Taiwanese, Tagalog, Bengali, Hindu, Urdu, and Singhalese. Ibid.
Department of the Interior to ensure activities are properly coordinated and
Department of Justice Office of Inspector General
The USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, passed shortly after the 9/11terrorist attacks,
gave the Office of Inspector General (OIG) in the Department of Justice (DOJ)
certain ombudsman-related responsibilities, particularly related to civil rights and
liberties matters.135 One of the provisions of the act, which expanded government
powers in anti-terrorism efforts, directs the IG to designate an official to carry out
!review information and receive complaints alleging a violation of
civil rights and civil liberties;
!make information about the functions and responsibilities of the
office, including how to contact the official, available through the
Internet, radio, newspapers, and television; and
!report semi-annually to the House and Senate Committees on the
Judiciary about the implementation of these requirements.
These functions are connected to complaints from individuals alleging abuses
of civil rights and civil liberties by DOJ employees, including contractors. To
respond to relevant allegations, the IG has established two special entities — a Civil
Rights and Civil Liberties Complaints unit, along with a special section in the OIG
Investigations Division — which are directed to
!review information and receive complaints alleging such
!identify the more serious allegations and assign them to OIG
employees for investigation; and
!refer other complaints to department components for their
review and handling (and refer still others to different federal
departments and agencies which have jurisdiction over the
policies in question).136
134 U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs, “James J. Benedetto Named
Federal Ombudsman,” available at [http://www.doi.gov/oia/press/2002/
135 P.L. 107-56; 115 Stat. 391. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org. As noted
elsewhere, the Justice Department inspector general is one of only three — the others being
in DHS and EPA — among the more than 60 offices of inspector general given ombudsman-
like responsibilities and duties.
136 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Report of Violations of Civil
Rights and Civil Liberties, Feb. 2008, available at [http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/FOIA/
hotline2.htm], pp. 3-8. DOJ also houses a separate Privacy and Civil Liberties Office
(PCLO) within the Office of the Deputy Attorney General; the PCLO oversees and makes
recommendations for departmental policy in this area. It has established a departmental
Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, chaired by the Chief Privacy Officer and composed of
Department of Transportation, Federal
Aviation Administration, Aviation Noise Ombudsman
An Aviation Noise Ombudsman (ANO) is located in the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA), Department of Transportation. Created by the Federal137
Aviation Reauthorization Act of 1996, the office “serves as a public liaison for
issues about aircraft noise questions or complaints.”138 The ANO usually intervenes,
however, only when a complainant thinks FAA officials who had been contacted
about noise problems are not responsive to an inquiry or grievance.139
Department of the Treasury
Several different types of ombudsman-like offices are located in the Department
of the Treasury. One responds to the general public, while the others respond to a
select clientele in the banking industry.
Internal Revenue Service Taxpayer Advocate Service. The Taxpayer
Advocate Service (TAS), headed by the National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA), in the
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has undergone a number of permutations over its
history, which dates from the late 1970s. Formerly titled the Office of Ombudsman,
TAS is located within the Internal Revenue Service, but operates independently of
any other office within the agency. Each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto
Rico has at least one local taxpayer advocate, who attempts to expedite lingering
taxpayer issues and recommend “administrative and legislative changes” to IRS
policies and operations.140
The first taxpayer advocate was appointed by the IRS commissioner in 1979. In
1988, the Office of Taxpayer Ombudsman was officially mandated by Congress in
P.L. 100-647. Later, the 1996 Taxpayer Bill of Rights 2 — intended “to provide
representatives of major divisions and bureaus in DOJ. One of the Board’s duties is to
“refer credible information pertaining to possible privacy or civil liberties violations by any
federal employee or official to the appropriate office for prompt investigation.” U.S.
Department of Justice, Privacy and Civil Liberties Office, Initial and First Annual Report
to Congress, 2007, available at [http://www.usdoj.gov/pclo/reporttocongress101606.pdf],
p. 11. See also U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General, “Civil Rights and
Civil Liberties,” Top Management and Performance Challenges in the Department of
Justice — 2006, and Top Management and Performance Challenges in the Department of
Justice — 2007, both available at [http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/challenges/].
137 P.L. 104-264; 110 Stat. 3282.
138 U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, “Aircraft Noise Issues,” available at
[ h t t p : / / www.f aa.go v/ about / o f f i ce_or g/ headqua r t er s_of f i ces/ a ep/ a i r cr af t _noi se/ ] .
140 U.S. Internal Revenue Service, “Taxpayer Advocate Service: Troublesome Tax Issues?”
p. 1, available at [http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1546.pdf].
increased taxpayer protections”141 — changed the title and altered the responsibilities
of the office by creating the Taxpayer Advocate.
Two years later, the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, which also
created an IRS Oversight Board, changed the name of the office and its head again:
the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate under the supervision and direction of the
National Taxpayer Advocate.142 The 1998 act also strengthened the office’s
oversight functions. The NTA is now required to submit an annual report to the
House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Finance by
June 30 of each year. The report must include Advocate initiatives to improve IRS
services, as well as potential recommendations to the existing system. No employee
of the IRS, including the commissioner, is permitted to review or comment on the
report before it is submitted to Congress.
In addition, the 1998 amendments reinforced the expanded duties of the Office
of the Taxpayer Advocate, requiring it to
!assist taxpayers in resolving problems with the Internal Revenue
!identify areas in which taxpayers have problems in dealings with the
Internal Revenue Service;
!propose changes, to the extent possible, in the administrative
practices of the Internal Revenue Service to mitigate problems; and
!identify potential legislative changes that may be appropriate to
mitigate such problems.143
In 2000, the office became known as the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS),
which handles both systemic IRS issues and individual taxpayer complaints. The
Advocate currently reports directly to the IRS commissioner and has no term limit.
The National Taxpayer Advocate is appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury, after
consultation with both the Commissioner of the IRS and the IRS Oversight Board.
Though the TAS has the word “advocate” in its title, the position has a two-fold
goal: it advocates for fair and efficient operation of the IRS, as well as directly for
individual taxpayers themselves. Any person or business suffering “economic harm”
or “experiencing delays” in the resolution of a tax problem has free access to a
taxpayer advocate.144 A taxpayer may seek an advocate by contacting the TAS via
141 P.L. 104-168, 110 Stat. 1452. For congressional initiatives, see U.S. Congress, House
Committee on Ways and Means, Taxpayer Bill of Rights 2, H.Rept. 104-506, 104th Cong.,nd
142 P.L. 105-206; 112 Stat. 699.
143 P.L. 105-206; 112 Stat. 698-699.
144 U.S. Internal Revenue Service, “Taxpayer Advocate Service: Troublesome Tax Issues?”,
p. 1, available at [http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1546.pdf]. A “delay” occurs if any issue
that takes more than 30 days to resolve or if the taxpayer has not received a response by the
date promised. Taxpayer advocates are also to be brought in when “IRS actions prevent [the
affected person] from providing for necessities such as housing, transportation or food.”
a toll-free number and asking an IRS employee to complete and submit a required
form (form 911). The taxpayer may also request and fill it out himself or herself.
The completed form is sent to the appropriate taxpayer advocate, who — once
assigned — is required to remain an advocate for the private party until any IRS
dispute is resolved. The advocate, whose service is confidential, is independent of
all other IRS offices.
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency Ombudsman. The
Ombudsman in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) — which
operates under the Community Development and Regulatory Improvement Act of
1994 — is one of five in “appropriate federal banking agencies” established by the
act and one of two in the Department of the Treasury.145 The ombudsman is to
!act as a liaison between the agency and any affected person with
respect to any problem in dealing with the agency resulting from its
regulatory activities; and
!assure that safeguards exist to encourage complainants to come
forward and preserve confidentiality.146
In so doing, the OCC Ombudsman is to report weaknesses in OCC policy and may147
stay any appealable agency decision.
Office of Thrift Supervision Ombudsman. The Office of Thrift
Supervision (OTS) is one of the five federal entities required by the Community
Development and Regulatory Improvement Act of 1994 to have an Ombudsman.148
All five Ombudsmen are to follow the same statutory directives, that is, to serve as
liaisons between the agency and any affected parties with respect to problems in
dealing with agency regulatory activities and to encourage complainants to come
forward. The jurisdictions and clientele differ among these Ombudsmen. The OTS
ombudsman is to respond to questions, concerns, and complaints from federally
chartered thrift institutions. He or she is to “assist the thrift community in resolving
such matters relating to regulatory oversight that may hinder their institution.”149
Ibid., p. 2.
145 P.L. 103-325; 108 Stat. 2160; codified at 12 U.S.C. § 4806. The act calls for
Ombudsmen in the National Credit Union Administration Board and each “appropriate
Federal banking agency,” meaning the Comptroller of the Currency, Office of Thrift
Supervision, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Board of Governors of the
Federal Reserve System.
147 U.S. Department of the Treasury, Comptroller of the Currency Administrator of National
Banks, “National Banks Appeal Process,” available at [http://www.occ.treas.gov/
148 P.L. 103-325; 108 Stat. 2160.
149 U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Thrift Supervision, Frequently Asked Industry
Questions about the Ombudsman, available at [http://www.ots.treas.gov/
Although hired and paid by OTS, the Ombudsman is to be “an advocate for equity
... and is required to perform his duties in an objective and neutral manner.”150
Department of Veterans Affairs
The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) houses several ombudsman-like
offices,151 including the following.
Board of Veterans’ Appeals Ombudsman. For military service members
who claim that they have been unfairly denied medical treatment for an injury
received or condition caused during duty, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) is
to determine whether they are eligible to receive benefits. The BVA Ombudsman is
to assist in this matter in two basic ways:
!remedy unsatisfactory experiences with the department; and
!make certain that communication with the BVA is clear and
The BVA website also offers links to a variety of VA offices, including the Debt
Management Center and the National Personnel Records Center. Like similar
ombudsman positions, the BVA Ombudsman does not have the ability to require
other VA centers or offices to take specific action. The Ombudsman, however,
receives complaints from eligible parties and attempts to ensure that the BVA is
Federal Recovery Coordinators and Transition Patient Advocates.
For injured combat veterans, there are two newly created statutory positions to handle
151 A bill in the 110th Congress — H.R. 2192, with an amended version approved by the
House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health on June 5, 2008 — would establish an
Office of Ombudsman in the Department. The Ombudsman, designated by the Secretary
and reporting directly to the head, would act as a liaison for veterans and their families with
respect to health care and benefits. The new officer, assisted by an Ombudsman Director
in each Administration of the Department, would provide: information about relevant
services; problem resolution services; patient advocacy; and assistance in understanding and
receiving available benefits, including submitting claims or applications for benefits and
fielding complaints. U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Health,th
Establishing an Ombudsman in the Department of Veterans Affairs, hearings, 110 Cong.,nd
2 sess., June 14, 2007. One press account noted, however, that the DVA does not support
the bill, with the department arguing that the new office would create an unnecessary level
of bureaucracy, in light of patient advocates and state-level counselors. Andy Leonatti,
“House bill creates VA ombudsman’s office,” CongessDaily, June 9, 2008, available at
[ ht t p: / / www.gove xec.com/ st or y_page .cf m?ar t i c l e i d=40193&dcn=e_gve t ] .
152 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Board of Veterans’ Appeals Ombudsman
(Customer Service): Complements, Questions, Concerns, Etc.,” available at
[ h t t p : / / www.va .gov/ vbs / b va / c ont a c t bva .ht m] .
aspects of their recovery.153 Though neither the Transition Patient Advocate (TPA)
nor the Federal Recovery Coordinator operates in the classic ombudsman capacity,
they both serve to help returning soldiers navigate the veterans’ medical system.
One hundred TPAs currently operate within VA hospitals across the country.
The TPA program, which began in May 2007, consists almost entirely of former
soldiers who offer assistance and advice as peers to soldiers who return from service
with a severe injury.154 The TPAs are part of a three-person team assigned to each
returning Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF)
soldier with a severe injury. The other two members of the team are a program
manager and a case manager — usually a nurse or social worker. The TPA’s job is
to “ensure a smooth transition of wounded service members through VA’s health
care system.”155 In so doing, the TPA can aid in meeting the everyday needs —
including scheduling medical appointments — of a returning soldier who is enrolled
at any of the 1,308 VA facilities.
In addition to the 100 TPAs working at the Veterans Affairs medical treatment
centers, the VA joined forces with the Department of Defense (DOD) to add 10
“Federal Recovery Coordinator” positions.156 The two departments created the
coordinator positions after the Report of the President’s Commission on Care for
America’s Returning Wounded Warriors, commonly known as the Dole-Shalala
Commission, recommended their creation.157 The recovery care coordinators, who
are separate from a three-person case management team, are to
!coordinate services between VA and DOD and, if necessary, private
!serve as the ultimate resource for families with questions or concerns
about VA, DOD, or other federal benefits; and
!ensure the appropriate oversight and coordination for care of active
duty service members and veterans with major amputations, severe
153 P.L. 110-181, Secs. 1611 and 1614.
154 Information provided by telephone by the Department of Veteran Affairs, Jan. 8, 2008.
156 The positions were created after published news and other accounts reported
unsatisfactory conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. See, among others, Michael
Abramovitz and Steve Vogel,”Army Secretary Ousted; Second Firing Follows Walter Reed
Revelations; Bush Vows a Probe,” Washington Post, Mar. 3, 2007, p. A1; Anne Hull and
Dana Priest, “Hospital Officials Knew of Neglect; Complaints About Walter Reed Were
Voiced for Years,” Washington Post, Mar. 1, 2007, p. A1; Dana Priest and Anne Hull,
“Swift Action Promised at Walter Reed; Investigations Urged as Army Moves to Make
Repairs, Improve Staffing,” Washington Post, Feb. 21, 2007, p. A8; and Steve Vogel,
“Review At Walter Reed Is Ordered; Defense Secretary Vows Accountability,” Washington
Post, Feb. 24, 2007, p. A1.
157 Bob Dole and Donna Shalala, “Serve, Support, Simplify: Report of the President’s
Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors,” July 2007, available at
[http://www.pccww.gov/ docs/Kit/Main_Book_CC% 5BJ ULY26%5D.pdf].
traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, severe sight or hearing
impairments, and severe multiple injuries.158
The Federal Recovery Coordinator focuses on the long-term recovery of each
returning wounded soldier,159 whereas the TPA focuses on day-to-day needs. Also,
in contrast to the TPAs, the recovery coordinators may offer their services to all
returning injured soldiers, regardless of whether they are receiving treatment at VA
Environmental Protection Agency
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has several prominent complaint-
Office of Inspector General Public Liaison. The Public Liaison
(formerly the ombudsman) currently operates within the Office of Inspector General
(OIG) of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).160 Congress created an
ombudsman function within the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response
with an amendment to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in 1984.161 The
position initially dealt only with hazardous waste matters. Later, EPA extended the
position past its 1988 legislative authorization and expanded its jurisdiction to162
include Superfund sites. After a July 2001 GAO report critical of the ombudsman
158 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Public Affairs Media Relations, “VA,
DOD Announce ‘Recovery Coordinators,’” press release, Oct. 31, 2007, available at
159 Reflecting the long-term orientation of the coordinators, the Departments of Defense and
Veterans Affairs set up a Joint VA/Defense Federal Recovery Coordinator Program for
wounded military personnel. It plans to provide a “life map for recovery” for those eligible,
designed to integrate their health records and identify and list followup services. U.S.
Congress, Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, VA and DoD Cooperation and
Collaboration on Caring for the Families of Wounded Warriors, hearing, Mar. 11, 2008,thnd
110 Cong., 2 sess. See also Bob Brewin, “Defense, VA lay out plans to improve health
care for wounded soldiers,” Government Executive, available at
[ ht t p: / / www.gove xec.com/ st or y_page .cf m?f i l e pat h=/ dai l yf e d/ 0308/ 031108bb1.ht m] .
160 As noted above, this OIG is one of only three with ombudsman-like responsibilities
among the nearly 60 offices operating under the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended
(5 U.S.C. Appendix). The others are in the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice.
For background, see CRS Report 98-379, Statutory Offices of Inspector General.
161 P.L. 98-616; 98 Stat. 3221.
162 While the national ombudsman covers all issues pertaining to hazardous waste, the
regional ombudsmen focus more on Superfund issues. Superfund is the name of the federal
program that addresses issues associated with abandoned hazardous waste sites around the
United States. See U. S. General Accounting Office, Hazardous Waste: EPA’s National and
Regional Ombudsmen Do Not Have Sufficient Independence, GAO Report GAO-01-813
(Washington: 2001), also available at [http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d01813.pdf]. An
overview of the Public Liaison activities is available at [http://www.epa.gov/oig]. For
additional information on Superfund, see U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
office, EPA proposed a controversial transfer of the Office of Congressional and
Public Liaison to the Office of Inspector General (OIG). The GAO report found
several structural weaknesses in the ombudsman office at the time:
EPA’s national ombudsman is located within the Office of Solid Waste and
Emergency Response (OSWER), the organizational unit whose decisions the
ombudsman is responsible for investigating, and his budget and staff resources
are controlled by unit managers within OSWER .... [T]his arrangement
undermines another fundamental requirement of an effective ombudsman:163
EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman determined that moving the
ombudsman into the IG office would give the ombudsman “more independence and
the impartiality necessary to conduct credible inquires,” while critics of the move —
including Robert J. Martin, the EPA Ombudsman at the time — insisted that the
transfer would “put the ombudsman even more firmly under the authority” of EPA
administrators.164 In January 2002, Martin filed a motion in federal district court to165
block the proposed move. Three months later, however, a federal district judge
dismissed the motion,166 paving the way for the ombudsman to be moved into the
OIG. Martin resigned his post, which was renamed Public Liaison, shortly after the
move.167 According to the EPA, the Public Liaison
!receives, reviews, and processes complaints and allegations about168
agency programs and activities;
“Superfund: Basic Information,” available at [http://www.epa.gov/superfund/about.htm].
163 GAO also found that the position did not have adequate “independence from any person
who may be the subject of a complaint or inquiry.” It added that EPA’s ombudsman failed
to file an annual report and did not meet many of the relevant professional standards for the
post. Ibid., abstract and p. 3.
164 Edward Walsh, “EPA to Transfer Ombudsman,” Washington Post, Nov. 29, 2001, p. A3.
See also Megan Twohey, “Whitman Under Fire for Dropping Ombudsman,” Federal Paper,
Feb. 29, 2001, pp. 1, 3.
165 “EPA Ombudsman Files Suit to Prevent Pending Move,” Federal Times, Jan. 14, 2002,
166 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Whitman Pleased with Judge’s Dismissal;
Relocation Proceeds, Allowing for Greater Independence of Ombudsman,” press release,
Apr. 12, 2002, available at [http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/
167 “Hill Report Criticizes EPA on Watchdog Autonomy,” Washington Post, Nov. 15, 2002,
168 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of the Inspector General, “Public Liaison
(Ombudsman) & Hotline,” available at [http://www.epa.gov/oig/ombudsman-hotline.htm].
!writes and publishes reports of agency needs and desired
!prevents and detects fraud, waste, and abuse.170
In addition to the Public Liaison, 10 regional EPA ombudsmen receive
complaints about regulatory polices regarding Superfund sites. The public can
contact the Office of Congressional and Public Liaison, located in Washington, DC,
by telephone, mail, facsimile, or e-mail.
Although the Public Liaison cannot require EPA to make changes to policies or
practices, he or she can “refer” cases to agency management for “review or action,”
or refer the case to an outside agency — such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation
— for further review, if warranted.171 In most cases, the complaint comes in through
the Public Liaison’s “hotline,” which includes a toll-free phone number. It may also
be submitted via e-mail, traditional mail, or in-person. Complainants may remain
anonymous. The Liaison then reviews the complaint and determines whether the
agency has performed its duties in an acceptable manner. All other waste
management complaints are to be handled by the liaison, while criminal
investigations are to be referred to a different office.
Small Business Ombudsman. The EPA created the Small Business
Ombudsman (SBO) function in 1982. In 1986, the SBO began also serving as the
EPA’s Asbestos Ombudsman. The position is established to
!serve as a liaison between small businesses and the EPA to promote
understanding of Agency policy and small business needs and
!staff a small business hotline that provides regulatory and technical
!maintain and distribute an extensive collection of informational and
technical literature developed by the various EPA program offices;
!make personal appearances as a speaker or panelist at small
!meet with more than 45 key national trade associations representing
several million small businesses and with state and regional
ombudsmen who serve businesses on the local level;
!provide guidance on the development of national policies and
regulations that impact small businesses; and
!track development and implementation of regulations affecting small
business in support of the Regulatory Flexibility Act.172
169 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of the Inspector General, “Public Liaison
Reports,”available at [http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/liaison.htm].
170 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of the Inspector General, “Public Liaison
(Ombudsman) & Hotline,” available at [http://www.epa.gov/oig/ombudsman-hotline.htm].
172 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “About SBO,” available at [http://www.epa.gov/
The Ombudsman’s primary responsibility is to respond to telephone inquiries
about regulatory requirements and pollution prevention.173 The office also prepares
a semi-annual newsletter that is sent to its constituency, which includes members of
the public, small business owners, legislators, employees, and agency managers. In
addition to the main ASBO office, there are 10 Regional Fairness Boards, each
consisting of five members, who are small business owners in their local
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Ombudsman
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which insures deposits in
U.S. banks, includes an Office of the Ombudsman (OO). It is one of five such
offices established by the Community Development and Regulatory Improvement
Act of 1994.175 The OO has two primary charges under the act:
!act as a liaison between the agency and any affected person with
respect to any problem such party may have in dealing with the
agency resulting from the regulatory activities of the agency; and
!assure that safeguards exist to encourage complainants to come
forward and preserve confidentiality.176
The OO, however, does not act as an “advocate” for the complainant, although it may
clarify FDIC policies and direct complaints to the appropriate division or office while
maintaining the complainant’s anonymity. The office cannot conduct in-depth
investigations or require changes in management decisions.177
sbo/aboutus.htm]. The Regulatory Flexibility Act is 5 U.S.C. 601-612.
173 Information provided by telephone by the ASBO, Dec. 7, 2007.
174 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Policy, Economics, and Innovation,
“Environmental Assistance Services for Small Businesses: A Resource Guide,” EPA-231B-
175 P.L. 103-325; 108 Stat. 2160; codified at 12 U.S.C. § 4806. This statute required that all
“appropriate Federal banking agencies” create ombudsmen, including the Federal Reserve
Board of Governors, the National Credit Union Administration, Office of the Comptroller
of the Currency, and the Office of Thrift Supervision, as well as the FDIC.
176 Enabling legislation, FDIC, Office of the Ombudsman, available at [http://www.fdic.gov/
regulations/resources/ombudsman/legislation.html]. Contact at email@example.com.
177 U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, “What the FDIC Ombudsman Cannot Do,”
available at [http://www.fdic.gov/regulations/resources/ombudsman/cannot.html].
Freedom of Information Act Entities
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Amendments of 2007 created two
ombudsman-like posts: Public Liaisons and an Office of Government Information
S ervi ces. 178
Public Liaisons. The 2007 amendments to the Freedom of Information Act
required the creation of public liaison positions throughout much of the executive
branch to ensure prompt and proper responses to the public’s FOIA requests. The
amendments called for the designation of “one or more FOIA Public Liaisons” in
each agency, leaving the determination of the size of the staff up to department and
agency heads. As instructed by the amendments, “each agency shall make available
its FOIA Public Liaison, who shall assist in the resolution of any disputes between179
the requester and the agency.” The Liaison is permitted, moreover, to attempt non-
binding dispute resolutions as an alternative to litigation. In addition, each agency
is to designate a Chief FOIA Officer who will, in turn, “designate one or more FOIA
Office of Government Information Services. The 2007 FOIA
Amendments also provided for the creation of an Office of Government Information
Services (GISO) within the National Archives and Records Administration.181 The
law required the new office to
!review policies and procedures of administrative agencies under this
!review compliance with this section by administrative agencies; and
!recommend policy changes to Congress and the President to improve182
the administration of this section.
178 P.L. 110-175; 121 Stat. 2524.
179 Ibid. The law also states that the Public Liaison “shall be responsible for assisting in
reducing delays, increasing transparency and understanding of the status of requests, and
assisting in the resolution of disputes.”
181 Ibid. GISO’s future location, however, is uncertain, in light of reported White House
objections to placing the office in NARA. President Bush’s FY2009 budget includes
language that would repeal GISO’s establishment (within NARA) and place its
responsibilities in the Department of Justice. The proposed change reads: “The Department
of Justice shall carry out the responsibilities of the office established in 5 U.S.C. 552(h),
from amounts made available in the Department of Justice appropriation for ‘General
Administration Salaries and Expenses’. In addition, subsection (h) of section 552 of title
5, United States Code, is hereby repealed, and subsections (i) through (l) are redesignated
as (h) through (k).” This provision is included in the President’s budget submission
covering the 2009 appropriations for the Department of Commerce. U.S. Office of
Management and Budget, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2009:
Appendix (Washington: GPO, Feb. 2008), sec. 519, p. 239.
182 121 Stat. 2524.
General Services Administration Construction
The General Services Administration (GSA) has established a highly specialized
ombudsman with narrow jurisdiction: the Construction Metrication Ombudsman183
(CMO), located in the Administration’s Senior Procurement Executive. The
CMO, as with counterparts in other agencies, stems from a statutory requirement that
the head of each executive agency that awards construction contracts within the
United States and its territories shall designate a senior agency official to serve
as a construction metrication ombudsman who shall be responsible for reviewing
and responding to complaints from prospective bidders, subcontractors,
suppliers, or their designated representatives related to — (A) guidance or
regulations issued by the agency on the use of the metric system of measurement
in contracts for the construction of Federal buildings; and (B) the use of the
metric system of measurement for services and materials required for184
incorporation in individual projects to construct Federal buildings.
In so doing, the CMO is required to respond to each complaint in writing within
60 days and make a recommendation to the head of the agency for an appropriate
resolution. After the agency head has made a decision, based on this
recommendation, the ombudsman is to communicate it in writing to the affected
parties and to the public in a timely manner, as well as to all appropriate offices
within the agency. The CMO is also charged with monitoring the implementation
of the decision.185
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Procurement
Ombudsman and Center Procurement Ombudsman
In 1996, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
established a Procurement Ombudsman, along with related Center Procurement
Ombudsmen in the Administration’s eight centers. Created administratively (NPD
disagreements, and recommendations submitted by interested parties that cannot be
resolved at the Center level, or those having agency-wide implications.”186 Basically,
the office was created “to address the procurement concerns of NASA contractors
before they become problems.”187
183 GSA Acquisition Manual, sec. 511.002-71, “Construction metrication ombudsman,”
available at [http://www.acquisition.gov/gsam/current/html/Part511.html].
184 15 U.S.C. § 205(f).
186 U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, “NASA Ombudsman,” NASA
Procedural Requirements, Chapter 1, available at [http://nodis3.gsfc.nasa.gov].
187 “Ombudsman Program Established to Address Procurement Concerns,” Spaceport News,
Feb. 2, 1996, p. 2, available at [http://www-pao.ksc.nasa.gov/kscpao/snews/1996/feb/feb02-
To accomplish this, the NASA Ombudsman is to respond to relevant inquiries
and concerns, work with appropriate NASA officials to resolve concerns, and refer
specific matters to appropriate Center Procurement Ombudsmen. Additional
responsibilities for the Agency and Center Procurement Ombudsmen include
collecting and distributing relevant facts and information, reviewing and resolving
complaints relative to certain types of contracts, and maintaining a log to track
individual cases from receipt to disposition.188
National Credit Union Administration Ombudsman
The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) houses an Ombudsman,
who “investigates complaints and recommends solutions” related to “regulatory
issues that cannot be resolved at the operational (regional) level.”189 The
Ombudsman is to help the complainants resolve disputes by defining options and
recommending actions to the parties involved. The Ombudsman, however, cannot
decide on matters in dispute or advocate the position of the complainant, NCUA, or
The position is one of five created by the Community Development and
Regulatory Improvement Act of 1994, which also covers the Federal Deposit
Insurance Corporation, Federal Reserve Board of Governors, Office of Thrift
Supervision, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.191 The enactment
directs them to act as liaisons between the agency and any affected persons with
respect to problems associated with regulatory activities and to encourage
complainants to come forward.192
Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Civil Liberties Protection Officer
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 provided for a
number of ombudsman-like offices connected with the protection of civil rights, civil
liberties, and individual privacy. In addition to those in the Department of Homeland
Security is the Civil Liberties Protection Officer (CLPO) in the Office of the Director
of National Intelligence (ODNI); the CLPO is appointed by and reports directly to the193
Director. The Civil Liberties Protection Officer’s duties, among others, are to
188 U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, “NASA Ombudsman,” NASA
Procedural Requirements, Chapter 1.
189 U.S. National Credit Union Administration, “NCUA’s Ombudsman,” available at
[http://www.ncua.gov/Ombudsma n/Index.htm] .
191 P.L. 103-325; 108 Stat. 2160; codified at 12 U.S.C. § 4806.
193 P.L. 108-458; 118 Stat. 3658-3659.
!the protection of civil liberties and privacy is appropriately
incorporated in the relevant ODNI policies and procedures;
!the use of technologies sustains, and does not erode, privacy; and
!complaints and other information indicating possible abuses of civil
liberties and privacy in the administration of programs and
operations of the ODNI are reviewed and assessed and, as
Small Business Administration
Two separate offices in the Small Business Administration (SBA) —
Ombudsman and Advocacy — provide various types of complaint-handling services,
information, outreach, and other forms of assistance to clients in the small business
community. In light of their possible overlap, the two offices issued a Memorandum
of Understanding (MOU) to foster increased cooperation between them, recognizing
that “both work to provide a more small business friendly regulatory environment.”195
The MOU spells out their separate roles and responsibilities.
SBA Ombudsman. Congress created the SBA’s Small Business and
Agriculture Regulatory Enforcement Ombudsman, now known as the National Office
of the Ombudsman, in the Small Business Regulatory Fairness Enforcement Act of196
1996. Under the act, the Office is designed to
!establish a means to receive comments from small businesses
regarding federal agency compliance and enforcement activities;
!conduct hearings in each of the 10 federal regions to solicit
comments on small business concerns to ensure that these businesses
have an avenue through which they can comment on agency
enforcement activities; and
!issue annual reports to the SBA Administrator and Congress
evaluating the enforcement activities of agency personnel, including197
a rating of the agency’s responsiveness to small businesses.
In receiving comments, the Ombudsman serves as a liaison between small
businesses and federal agencies. These comments are to be forwarded to federal
agencies for a high-level review; and the agencies are requested to consider the
fairness of their enforcement actions, after which the Ombudsman is to send a copy
194 Ibid., p. 3659. See also U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Civil
Liberties Protection Office,” available at [http://odni.gov/CivilLiberties.htm].
195 Office of Advocacy and Office of Ombudsman, Small Business Administration,
Memorandum of Understanding, Nov. 17, 2006, p. 1, available at [http://www.sba.gov/
196 P.L. 104-121; 110 Stat. 857; codified at 15 U.S.C. § 657.
197 Ibid.; and SBA Office of the National Ombudsman, National Ombudsman’s 2006 Report
to Congress, available at [http://www.sba.gov/idc/groups/public/documents/
sba_program_office/ombud_ono2006.pdf]. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.
of the agencies’ responses to the small businesses.198 In some cases, fines have been
lowered or eliminated and decisions changed in favor of small businesses.
Nonetheless, the Ombudsman cannot change, stop, or delay a federal agency
SBA Office of Advocacy. SBA also houses a distinct Office of Advocacy,199
headed by a chief counsel. The office, established in 1976, is broadly designed to
examine the role of small businesses in the American economy, including the impact
and effectiveness of regulations on them, and make recommendations with regard to
such determinations.200 In so doing, the Office is to provide relevant data and
information to the small business community and the federal government. The
Advocacy Office may also file amicus curiae briefs on regulatory matters before
federal appellate courts. The regional advocates are to help to ensure communication
between the small business community and the chief counsel, and provide a link
between the counsel, local businesses, and state and local governments. Part of this
process may involve receiving complaints and concerns from small businesses, but201
the Advocate is not obligated to respond to individual pleas as is the Ombudsman.
U.S. Agency for International Development Acquisition
and Assistance Ombudsman
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) established an
Acquisition and Assistance (AA) Ombudsman in 1999, in part prompted by the
198 SBA Office of the National Ombudsman, “About the Office,” available at
[ ht t p: / / www.sba.gov/ about sba/ sbapr ogr ams/ ombudsma n/ about us] .
199 15 U.S.C. § 634a.; P.L. 96-354; 94 Stat. 1164, as amended by the Small Business
Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996, 110 Stat. 847. A primary charge of the
agency is to ensure that the SBA is in compliance with the Regulatory Flexibility Act of
1980, which requires semi-annual publication of federal regulation changes that will affect
small businesses. In 1999, a General Accounting Office report questioned the independence
of the Office of Advocacy from the SBA’s managers. U.S. General Accounting Office,
Small Business Administration: Review of Selected Personnel Practices, GAO/GGD-99-68
(Washington: GAO, 1999). In 2001 and 2003, bills that would have created a stronger
“firewall” between the SBA and the Office of Advocacy’s Chief Counsel, who heads the
office, were considered by congressional committees; but these initiatives were not enacted.
U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Small Business, Independent Office of Advocacy,thst
S.Rept. 107-5, 107 Cong., 1 sess. (Washington: GPO, 2001); and House Committee onthst
Commerce, Small Business and Advocacy Improvement Act of 2003, 108 Cong., 1 sess.,
H.Rept. 108-162 (Washington: GPO, 2003). The office may also file amicus curiae briefs
in court. For background, see Lubbers, Report to the Taxpayer Advocate, Independent
Advocacy Agencies Within Agencies.
200 An example is the Advocacy Office’s urging federal acquisition councils to consider
exempting small firms from a regulation that would compel contractors to verify workers’
employment eligibility by using a Homeland Security database, specifically, DHS’s E-
Verify system. Elizabeth Newell, “Advocacy office says small firms deserve break on E-
Verify,” Government Executive, Aug. 14, 2008, available at
[ ht t p: / / www.gove xec.com/ st or y_page .cf m?ar t i c l e i d=40715&dcn=e_gve t ] .
201 SBA Office of Advocacy, About Advocacy, and The Office of Advocacy, both available
at [http://www.sba.gov/advo/about.html]. Contact email@example.com.
earlier Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act.202 The role of the Ombudsman is to
ensure “equitable treatment of all parties participating in USAID’s grants and
contracts (for acquisitions and assistance) throughout the process.”203 The AA
Ombudsman is tasked with managing complaints about specific AA proceedings and
with facilitating the resolution of differences through an informal, impartial
administrative review of the agency action in question. Operating as a neutral
intermediary, the Ombudsman is to maintain the anonymity and confidentiality of
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Small Business Ombudsman
In 1996, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) established a Small
Business Ombudsman (SBO) to serve as a liaison to that community to answer
inquiries, provide information, and proffer advice and guidance about compliance205
with the statutes, regulations, and policies under the CPSC’s jurisdiction. The
SBO also is to provide technical guidance to small businesses attempting to resolve
problems with the Office of Compliance and the Office of Hazard Identification and
Reduction.206 Along with these activities, the Ombudsman is to maintain a liaison
with its counterpart in the Small Business Administration and “an ongoing dialogue
with national trade associations that represent small businesses.”207
U.S. Postal Service Consumer Advocate
In 1970, Congress passed the Postal Reorganization Act (PRA),208 which
transformed the struggling United States Post Office Department into the United
States Postal Service (USPS), an independent establishment in the executive branch.
One of its components is a Consumer Advocate.
The workload of USPS, the largest federal civilian employer, is heavy. It
delivers more than 212 billion pieces of mail annually to more than 120 million
homes and businesses in the United States and its territories and commonwealths.
When customer complaints arise over its service, responses usually follow several
stages, initially with the local post office. At the national level, the Postal Service
established a Consumer Advocate of the Postal Service as another way to improve
202 U.S. Agency for International Development, Acquisition and Assistance Ombudsman,
available at [http://www.usaid.gov/business/reviewprocess.html]. Contact
205 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Small Business Ombudsman, Small Business
Ombudsman, available at [http://www.cpsc.gov/BUSINFO/ombud.html]. Contact at
208 84 Stat. 719.
customer service. The Advocate, created in 1971 by then-Postmaster Winton M.
Blount, is to respond to customer concerns in several ways. It aids customers whose
insured parcels were lost or damaged during mailing. If USPS denies the indemnity
claim, the Customer Advocate adjudicates an appeal. The Advocate also
independently measures customer satisfaction and customer perspectives, relying on
nearly 900,000 survey results annually.209 A patron seeking assistance from the
Consumer Advocate can request it from the local mail carrier; call, write, or visit the
local post office; or call the USPS national hotline.
209 Information provided electronically by the USPS Consumer Advocate, Jan. 31, 2008.