Approved Sept. 30, 2013

1. Name

“Coalition of Federal Ombudsman,” also referred to as “The Coalition” or “COFO.” The term “ombudsman” is interchangeable with the term “ombuds.”

2. Purpose

The Coalition of Federal Ombudsman is the principal interagency forum that provides collaboration, advice, and guidance on professional Ombuds standards, skills development, program development, and effectiveness.

Coalition members and committees work as an integrated and networked enterprise to increase the professionalism and effectiveness of Ombuds serving United States government agencies by sharing experiences, ideas, policies, standards, best practices, and innovative approaches to providing world-class Ombudsman services.

3. Values

We believe Ombuds to be independent, neutral and impartial, and confidential. We strive for objectivity and fairness when assisting those involved with and impacted by federal government agencies.

We strive toward a leadership style based on cross-agency collaboration and interdisciplinary experience. We recognize and honor the widely divergent constituents we serve, practices we use, and people we are. This breadth of activity and experience provide for valuable exchanges.

4. The Coalition Membership

General Members:

Any person working as an Ombudsman, alternative dispute resolution specialist, or other persons interested in federal ombudsman practice.

Voting Members:

The primary governing body of The Coalition is the voting membership, which shall be composed of Ombuds working for federal agencies who practice according to the values cited above when performing ombuds duties. If an agency has more than one Ombudsman (i.e. a sub-agency or division by subject matter or agency program), each Ombudsman (such as an associate and an assistant Ombuds) may be members of the voting membership.

5. Executive Committee

The Officers of the Executive Committee shall be the chair, vice chair, secretary, and coordinator, who collaboratively govern and conduct necessary business for and on behalf of The Coalition.

All Officer positions, except for that of the chair, may be composed of two Ombuds, each with equal responsibility and authority, to minimize the workload for individual officers on the executive committee.

  1. Chair: The Chair shall convene and preside over meetings; oversee the administrative and business functions of the Coalition; serve as ex-officio member of all committees; appoint special committees as necessary, with  confirmation by majority vote of the executive committee; serve as the official spokesperson for the Coalition, including serving as the primary point of contact to members of the public, federal and state agencies, and other professional organizations; and prepare and transmit written correspondence on behalf of the Coalition.
  2. Vice Chair: The vice chair shall assist the chair in carrying out the functions of the Coalition and act in the absence of the Chair. If the chair cannot fulfill his or her term, the vice chair will fulfill the duties of the chair. The vice chair may also act or serve at the specific request of the chair, and may perform any other specific functions assigned by the executive committee.
  3. Secretary: The secretary shall be responsible for preparing minutes of all CoFO meetings; maintain the official records of the Coalition, including minutes; and tally votes not cast by the showing of hands, including secret ballots and any electronic votes.
  4. Coordinator: The coordinator shall serve to assist the Coalition members and officers on a day-to-day basis; maintain and update membership lists; conduct appropriate outreach to members, potential members, and agencies interested in starting an ombuds program; provide official notice to membership as required; and provide documentation to the secretary.
  5. Election of Officers: The officers shall be elected by the executive committee, during or shortly after the annual meeting, on a biannual basis on odd numbered years. Preceding the annual meeting, the chair shall appoint a nominating committee of no less than three and no more than five persons. At the September meeting following the committee’s appointment, the committee shall present a slate of candidates for the officers named herein. Immediately following the meeting at which the slate of candidates was presented, the coordinator shall post the candidates on the listserv with a reminder that new officers will be elected during the fall timeframe.
  6. Term of Officers: The term of office for officers shall be for two years. Officers shall be eligible to succeed themselves.
  7. Removal of Officers or Members: Any officer of the executive committee or member of the voting membership may be removed or expelled by a two-thirds majority vote at any meeting called for that purpose. Notice of such meeting shall be provided at least 14 days prior, shall state the purpose for which the meeting was called, and shall be provided to the officer or member being proposed for removal. If expelled, a report summarizing reasons for such expulsion shall be prepared by the secretary, a copy thereof shall be served upon the expelled member, and shall be maintained by the secretary in the official records of the Coalition. Such report shall serve as notice that said person is no longer a member of the Coalition.
  8. Compensation: There shall be no compensation or indirect personal gain for serving as the Coalition’s officers, as these are volunteer positions.

6. Committees And Working Groups

Standing committees and working groups promote the objectives and purposes of the Coalition. Dates and responsibilities assigned to these committees shall be subject to the authority of the executive committee. The executive committee shall vote to establish or dissolve any of the committees and working groups, as needed. The terms of office of committee chairpersons shall be for one year or until the election or appointment of a successor.

7. Focus Areas

General topics of interest for which members can participate may include the following areas:

  1. Collaboration/External Liaison: Identify mechanisms for coalition members to obtain technical and professional support and advice necessary for their office. Explore the feasibility of shared services (e.g. databases) that may be obtained by Ombuds that do not have the resources to otherwise perform these services. Maintain partnerships with traditional groups (such as the Interagency Alternative Dispute Resolution Working Group, International Ombudsman Association, United States Ombudsman Association, American Bar Association, Association for Conflict Resolution), and other partners in government, academia, and industry.
  2. Communications: Develop a communications strategy. Maintain an internet website and other electronic systems for the benefit of the voting membership as determined to be necessary or desirable. Functions may include supervising web content; doing projects to improve the website’s functionality, appearance, scope, and utility; recommending communications strategies to the executive committee; ensuring communications comply with federal standards; providing timely information and news using a variety of communications vehicles as appropriate; exploring new media tools for outreach and internal coordination of information, including new social media websites and other new technologies with careful consideration of information security, legal, and privacy issues.
  3. Conference: Collaboratively develop events providing educational value to CoFO members, including the annual conference.
  4. Resource Clearinghouse: Serve as a clearinghouse for best practices to assist CoFO members and stakeholders establishing new Ombudsman offices.
  5. Professional Development: Promote professional development and help improve the capacity of CoFO members to deliver world-class ombudsman services. Communicate educational opportunities for CoFO members. Solicit input from Coalition members on the training and the development needs of the federal ombudsman community. Seek opportunities to improve training methods, enhance the development of ombudsman staff, and establish training to meet continuing educational requirements.
  6. Legal and Legislation: Keep abreast of matters in the Congressional arena and legal matters that are of interest to the Ombudsman community.

8. Governance

  1. Executive Committee Meetings and Decision Making
  2. Regular Meetings of the executive committee shall be held quarterly, or more frequently at the discretion of the chair.
  3. Special Meetings of the executive committee may be called by the chair, with concurrence of the officers, or must be called when a majority of the executive committee requests same
  4. Quorum: In order for decisions of the executive committee to be acted upon during its meetings, there must be a quorum present (in person, telephone, or videoconference). A quorum for the executive committee officers exists if the number of officers plus authorized substitutes for absent voting members (as discussed below) equals two-thirds of the number of executive committee members.
  5. Decisions of the executive committee will be made by consensus to the maximum extent possible. When consensus is not possible, any executive committee officer may call for a vote on an issue. For a vote to be considered decided, it must have the agreement of a majority of the executive committee officers constituting a quorum and participating in person, by phone, or by other electronic means.
  6. Critical Objections: If the executive committee receives a critical objection from the voting membership, the executive committee shall respond in writing with a final decision and appropriate justification in a timely manner (days, not weeks). In cases where the executive committee is split on a decision, the chair will provide the final decision.
  7. Meetings of the Voting Membership
  8. Final meeting agendas for meetings of the voting membership shall be set by the chair after considering recommendations from the executive committee.
  9. Regular meetings of the voting membership will generally be held monthly, and a fall meeting shall be considered the annual meeting. The annual meeting of the Coalition shall be held at a time and place decided upon by the chair, with the concurrence of the executive committee. On odd numbered years, officers of the Coalition’s executive committee shall be elected during or shortly after the annual meeting.
  10. Special meetings of the voting membership may be called by the chair, with concurrence of the officers, or must be called when a majority of the executive committee or a majority of the voting membership requests same.
  11. An announcement of the time and place of meetings shall be in writing, via the listserv, and posted on the webpage. Announcements of special meetings shall be given to members with notice of at least 10 business days.
  12. quorum of the Coalition shall be constituted when those holding one-fourth (25 percent) of the voting membership with entitlement to cast votes, are present in person, on the phone, or by proxy at the meeting. No business may be transacted until a quorum is present and the announced time of the meeting has passed.
  13. Decisions of the voting membership will be made by consensus to the maximum extent possible. When consensus is not possible, any two voting members (a proposer and a second) may call for a vote on an issue. For an election or motion to be considered decided, it must have the agreement of a majority of the voting membership constituting a quorum and participating in person, by phone, or by other electronic means. At the option of the chair, elections and votes may be held by a show of hands, recorded vote, electronic vote, or by secret ballot. Electronic voting may be held between CoFO meetings.
  14. Proxies: At all meetings of the Coalition each member of the voting membership, entitled to cast his/her vote, may be present in person, via phone, or in proxy. For a proxy to be effective, said proxy must be an Ombudsman in the member’s agency. At the beginning of the meeting, the proxy shall announce to the chair that he/she is serving as a proxy and provide the name of the voting member.
  15. Critical ObjectionsVoting members may submit a critical objection to any election, motion, or proposal to the executive committee before a final decision is made. A critical objection indicates grave concern that an election or motion, if passed with a majority vote, would likely have significant adverse consequences. Voting members shall use considerable judgment and discretion when using critical objections, which shall hold the decision in abeyance for no longer than 14 calendar days. Critical objections submitted anonymously may be considered by the executive committee on a case by case basis. Such an objection shall be made in writing with thorough rationale for the objection.
  16. Membership
  17. Voting MembershipOmbuds working for federal agencies—who practice according to the values cited in this Charter, when performing their ombuds duties—are eligible to be members of CoFO. If an agency has more than one Ombudsman (i.e. a sub-agency or division by subject matter or agency program), each Ombudsman (such as an associate and an assistant Ombuds) may be members of the voting membership. At every meeting, each voting member shall be entitled to one vote. All elections shall be held and all questions decided by a simple majority vote of the quorum present. Participation may be via proxy.
  18. Participation in the Coalition’s activities shall be in person. However, the Coalition reserves the right to authorize participation by means of teleconferencing and/or conference call. Any costs associated with electronic participation shall be borne by the member’s agency.
  19. FeesThere shall be no fees assessed for membership in the Coalition.
  20. Voting: In conducting business of the Coalition, voting shall be by raised hands, or upon a majority vote of the voting membership, with a quorum present, the vote may be by secret ballot or electronic balloting. When electronic balloting is used, members will have two weeks to submit a vote to the secretary, following the posting of the need to vote on the list serve.

9. Amending The Charter

After 30 days’ notice, the voting membership may amend the Charter, in whole or in part, with a quorum present, by a majority vote.

A proposed Charter-law amendment, changes or alteration or repeal shall be in writing, signed by at least two members. No vote shall be taken upon any proposal unless and until all members of the voting membership have received 30 days’ notice of consideration of any proposed change, alteration, repeal or amendment. To be official, any such notice shall include a copy of the proposed change, alteration, repeal, or amendment. Placement of the notice and copy of the proposal on the Coalition’s listserv by the coordinator within the 30 day time limit shall constitute notice. In the absence of the coordinator, the chair may place the notice on the list serve to constitute notice.

This document constitutes the Coalition’s operating by-laws and shall be referred to as “the Charter.”