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, complaint investigations, and offers compliance assistance, all of which have the potential to generate questions, concerns, or issues that might impact successful coordination between OFCCP and stakeholders.
Accordingly, the mission of the OFCCP Ombuds is to ensure that all who are involved with the work of the agency have access to a neutral and confidential resource, one that operates independently and informally. The vision of the Ombuds Service is that any of the following can be offered:
- Informal, one-on-one conversations with the Ombuds.
- A series of more in-depth, strategizing and/or conflict coaching sessions.
- Facilitated dialogue involving OFCCP and stakeholders.
- Shuttle diplomacy between stakeholders and OFCCP.
- Mediation to resolve issues which persist, despite other preliminary attempts at resolution.
- Presentations to stakeholders and OFCCP staff to share programmatic updates and explore opportunities for collaboration with the Ombuds Service.
- Design and delivery of conflict resolution trainings and workshops.
- Implementation of other dispute resolution systems, as necessary.
- Referral to other resources within or outside of DOL, when applicable.
The Ombuds 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 there are now many variations of the ombuds position, all of whom act as advocates for fair processes.
In modern times, practitioners most commonly refer to themselves as ombud, ombuds, ombudsman, or ombudsperson. Regardless of title, the purpose remains the same; a confidential and neutral resource designated to provide conflict resolution services to members (internal ombuds) and/or stakeholders (external ombuds) of the organization. There are ombuds in all sectors (corporate, higher education, healthcare, public, non-governmental, nonprofit, etc.).
At OFCCP, the Ombuds Service is unique in that it offers dispute resolution both internally and externally. The Ombuds makes use of active listening and problem solving techniques through individual consultations, conflict coaching, mediation, facilitation, shuttle diplomacy, and conflict resolution skills training. The Ombuds Service is available to a vast constituency of external stakeholders, including but not limited to federal contractors and subcontractors, contractor representatives, potential, current, or former employees of federal contractors, as well as workers’ rights, compliance, and industry liaison groups. Services are also available to OFCCP national, regional and district office staff finding themselves in conflict with external stakeholders. Upon each referral, the Ombuds responds to concerns expressed by either external stakeholders or OFCCP, works with those involved to diagnose the origin of a conflict, and assists with identifying mechanisms, however informal, for addressing problem areas. 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, make recommendations to improve processes and prevent future issues.
Unlike some ombuds offices, the Ombuds Service does not conduct investigations or advocate for any individual or group of individuals. Rather, the OFCCP Ombuds advocates only for fair processes, effective communication, and collaboration between the agency and stakeholders.
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 Town Halls and stakeholder meetings in 2018. After welcoming those stakeholder recommendations, the OFCCP Ombuds Service was created 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 OFCCP employee with the authority to receive and informally address concerns about agency policies, procedures, or actions. Consistent with the Standards of Practice promoted by the International Ombuds Association and the Coalition of Federal Ombudsman, the OFCCP Ombuds:
- Listens to understand issues while remaining neutral.
- Offers confidentiality, at the discretion of the Ombuds and consistent with federal law, including the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996, Section 574, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
- Hears concerns nonjudgmentally, aiming to understand and spotlight others’ perspectives.
- Assists with reframing issues, developing options, and evaluating alternatives.
- Coaches individuals on how to deal directly with those whom they might find themselves in conflict.
- Coaches individuals on how to engage in collaborative communication and prepares them to coordinate directly with other parties to a dispute.
- Informs individuals about relevant policies, procedures, and resources that might help in resolving a matter.
- Assists in passing issues through other, more formal resolution channels, when necessary.
- Engages in informal conflict resolution processes such as facilitated dialogue, shuttle diplomacy, and mediation.
- Identifies patterns, emerging 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.
- Represent or provide legal advice to an external stakeholder or OFCCP employee.
- Substitute for, replace, or direct the work of OFCCP field office staff during compliance evaluations or complaint investigations.
- Serve in other organizational roles that might compromise the neutrality of the Ombuds 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, email, or using the Ombuds Service Referral Form (see below under “Related Pages”). To preserve as much confidentiality as is needed within the parameters of a concern, responses received through the online referral form may, but do not need to, include a name or contact information. Please note that if a completed referral form does not include contact information, the concern itself will be handled anonymously, meaning that the Ombuds Service will still track and potentially relay issues that appropriate staff or divisions within OFCCP should otherwise be made aware of, but will have no way of following up with the person who submitted the form. Regardless of how contact is initiated, every effort is made to respond to inquiries within one business day.
Please feel free to contact the ombuds today!
Marcus Stergio, Ombuds
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave NW