Office of the Ombudsman

Confidential - Neutral - Independent - Informal

About The Ombudsman Office

The NIH Office of the Ombudsman

The NIH Office of the Ombudsman provides assistance to members of the NIH community in addressing lab- and work-related issues. We are a resource that is neutral, independent, confidential, and informal (our standards of practice).

Our staff are trained professionals with extensive experience in identifying and resolving both individual and organizational conflicts. We use our knowledge of conflict theory and organizational dynamics to identify the underlying causes of disputes and provide visitors with tools and resources to resolve their concerns. We can also act as intermediaries to facilitate communication when appropriate, and if requested.

We tailor our approach to each situation and will not take action without approval of the person visiting our office. To resolve sensitive issues, our ombudsmen (a gender-neutral term) employ conflict-resolution practices such as conflict coaching, mediation, shuttle diplomacy and group facilitation.

We also identify systemic conflicts, raising attention to NIH leadership those practices, norms, policies, and aspects of NIH culture that appear to exacerbate tensions or create problems for people working at NIH.

The Office of the Ombudsman is a central component of the Center for Cooperative Resolution.  The Center for Cooperative Resolution is an integrated framing structure for building conflict resolution capacity across the NIH.  

History of the Office of the Ombudsman

The Office of the Ombudsman was established in April 1997 as a pilot program supported by five Institutes representing a cross-section of the NIH population, including the Office of the Director; the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; the National Institute on Drug Abuse; and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The goals of the pilot program were to:

- Further scientific research through efficient, effective, and innovative conflict management and resolution methods.

- Provide an alternative to traditional grievance and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint processes.

- Improve the work environment, preserve workplace relationships and enhance the quality of work life by increasing participant satisfaction with dispute resolution outcomes.

- Reduce the costs associated with and time committed to traditional dispute processing.

After the pilot period ended, an evaluation team determined that the Office was effective in reducing disputes and offered a valued means to enhance conflict management at NIH. In response to a greater-than-expected demand for services, NIH expanded the staffing of the Office and extended its services to the entire NIH community in 1999.