In keeping with the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) vision to foster and promote the welfare of job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) is committed to expanding equal employment opportunities and eliminating discrimination in the workplaces of federal contractors. As an administrator of federal equal employment opportunity laws and regulations, OFCCP conducts compliance evaluations and complaint investigations that have the potential to generate questions, concerns, or issues among regional and district offices, contractors and subcontractors, and various other stakeholders.
The OFCCP Ombuds Service operates with the mission to ensure that all who are involved with the work of the agency have access to a neutral and confidential resource, one who operates independently and informally. The ombudsman’s vision is that any of the following can be offered:
- Informal, one-on-one conversations by phone;
- A series of more in-depth, strategizing and/or conflict coaching sessions;
- Facilitation between OFCCP and stakeholders;
- Mediation to resolve an ongoing dispute between OFCCP and stakeholders;
- Design and delivery of conflict resolution trainings and workshops;
- Implementation of other dispute resolution systems, as necessary; and
- Referral to other resources within or outside of DOL, when applicable.
The ombudsman approaches each situation as its own unique circumstance and will identify a mechanism, however informal, which best addresses the problem at hand and the needs of those involved.
Ombuds Defined and Purpose for the Ombuds Service
The word ombuds directly translates to “representative” and its origin dates back to 1809 when the first public sector ombudsman was appointed by the Parliament of Sweden. The ombudsman’s role was to protect individual rights alongside the interests of the government. Fast forward a few hundred years and many iterations later, the classical ombuds is still an accessible guarantor of fair and equitable treatment.
In modern times, there are four primary terms used to label the same job title (ombud, ombuds, ombudsman, and ombudsperson). Regardless of language preference, the purpose remains the same, a confidential and neutral resource designated to provide conflict resolution and problem-solving services to members (internal ombuds) and/or stakeholders (external ombuds) of the organization. There are ombuds in all sectors (corporate, higher education, public sector, non-governmental, nonprofit, etc.).
At OFCCP, the Ombuds Service is unique in that it is somewhat of a hybrid between internal and external work, offering a broad scope of dispute resolution processes such as active listening, conflict coaching, mediation, facilitation, shuttle diplomacy and training to OFCCP national, regional and district staffs finding themselves in conflict with federal contractors and subcontractors, employees of those contractors, workers’ rights groups, and a variety of other stakeholders. Upon each referral, the ombudsman responds to concerns expressed by either external stakeholders or OFCCP, works with those involved to diagnose the root cause and assists with identifying mechanisms, however informal, for addressing those problems. On an annual and as-needed basis, the Ombuds Service will convey trends and systemic organizational issues to the OFCCP front office and, when appropriate, makes recommendations to improve processes and prevent future issues.
If there is one aspect of this service that should be most widely understood it is that, above all else, the ombuds is an advocate not for any one individual, group or entity, but rather an independent, impartial resource committed to fairness, resolving conflicts and achieving mutually agreeable outcomes.
In the Government Accountability Office’s Equal Employment Opportunity: Strengthening Oversight Could Improve Federal Contract Nondiscrimination Compliance report (September 2016), a recommendation was made that OFCCP review and enhance contractor compliance assistance and increase both transparency and communication with agency stakeholders. Meanwhile, OFCCP obtained similar feedback through a series of compliance assistance and stakeholder meetings in 2018. After welcoming those stakeholder recommendations, the OFCCP Ombuds Service was instituted as an outlet for addressing stakeholder concerns while strengthening equal employment opportunities for protected classes of workers nationwide.
The ombuds is an independent and neutral public official with the authority to both receive and informally address concerns and complaints about OFCCP policies, procedures, or actions. Consistent with the principles that guide both the International Ombudsman Association and the United States Ombudsman Association, the OFCCP ombuds:
- Listens to understand issues while remaining neutral.
- Offers confidentiality, at the ombudsman’s discretion, with respect to the facts.
- Hears complaints nonjudgmentally, aiming to understand the issue from the perspective of the individuals involved.
- Assists individuals and groups in reframing issues, developing options and evaluating alternatives.
- Coaches individuals on how to deal directly with those whom they might find themselves in conflict.
- Informs individuals about relevant policies, procedures, and resources that might help in reaching a resolution.
- Assists in passing issues through other, more formal resolution channels.
- Engages in informal conflict resolution processes such as dialogue facilitation, shuttle diplomacy, and mediation.
- Identifies new issues and opportunities for systemic change within the agency.
Important to note that the ombuds does NOT:
- Decide who is right or wrong.
- Conduct formal investigations that substitute for administrative or judicial proceedings.
- Substitute for regional or district OFCCP staff during ongoing compliance evaluations or complaint investigations.
- Serve in other organizational roles that might compromise the neutrality of the ombudsman position.
- Make binding decisions or mandate policies.
- Share or provide access to confidential Ombuds Service records.
- Participate as a witness or testify in any proceedings about confidential communications, to the extent permitted by law.
Contact the Ombuds Service
You are welcome to contact the OFCCP Ombuds Service by phone or email. Please note that every effort is made to respond to inquiries within one business day.
Due to the ombudsman’s goal of maintaining as much confidentiality as is needed within the parameters of your concern, you are also welcome to contact him anonymously, either by calling from a private line or submitting information via the Ombuds Service Referral Form. Responses received through the online referral form may, but do not need to, include a name or contact information for the person who submitted.
Please feel free to contact the ombudsman today!
U.S. Department of Labor
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
200 Constitution Ave NW
Main Line: 202-693-0101
Direct Line: 202-693-1174