The Ombudsman is not an advocate for any of the parties involved in a disagreement but is available as an impartial listener attempting to understand and consider all sides of an issue. This may include an independent investigation in order to get a clearer understanding of the facts. The Ombudsman may provide information on alternative approaches or procedures available or simply help individuals to develop options for resolving a dispute. The Ombudsman can make recommendations for change but does not have the authority to enforce those recommendations.
Generally, the Ombudsman can maintain confidentiality with regard to any form of dispute resolution communication. (Guidance on this issue is provided in the document entitled “Confidentiality in Federal Dispute Resolution Programs” at 65 FR 83085, December 29, 2000). A complainant may request that their identity (i.e. name, company or organization) or that some or all of the details of the complaint be kept confidential. However, total confidentiality can be restrictive and may prevent a thorough investigation and effective resolution of an issue. The Ombudsman must have the complainant’s concurrence and permission before proceeding with any direct action. Significant issues may still be addressed within the Center by the Ombudsman but conveyed in a way that focuses on the problem and yet maintains anonymity for the complainant.
The CVM Ombudsman is a member of the International Ombudsman Association (IOA). The IOA is a non-profit, international association for professional organizational ombuds people. With regard to safeguarding both the practice and appearance of neutrality and confidentiality, the CVM Ombudsman generally adheres to IOA’s Standards of Practice and to the Code of Ethics which states:
“The Ombudsman holds all communications with those seeking assistance in strict confidence, and does not disclose confidential communications unless given permission to do so. The only exception, to this privilege of confidentiality is where there appears to be imminent risk of serious harm.”
Exceptions to confidentiality also include any allegations of criminal activity, which must be reported to the FDA Office of Internal Affairs or Office of Criminal Investigations.
The CVM Ombudsman is also a member of the Coalition of Federal Ombudsman (COFO). “Coalition members and committees work as an integrated and networked enterprise to increase the professionalism of Ombuds serving United States government agencies … .”