Between 1990 and 1995, ombuds programs proliferated. Amidst growing concerns by the federal administration, Congress, and the American public regarding the size of government, burdensome government regulations, and bureaucratic bottlenecks, federal agency Ombuds offices were created. They formed to facilitate a burgeoning number of issues and complaints arising from the public at large as well as from the employees of federal agencies. During this period, many federal agency ombuds programs were legislatively mandated, while others were agency-created.
Because of a proliferation of federal agency ombuds in the 1990’s, a need arose for a forum for idea exchange, ombuds program development, and establishment of best practices models. In response to these needs, the Coalition of Federal Ombudsman (COFO) was formed and convened their first meeting in July 1996.
Coalition members quickly realized that the ombuds’s roles and responsibilities varied greatly according to their own agency’s mission and needs. Their first meeting was insightful; the group shared the challenges associated with ensuring that client service initiatives are met and consistently improved.
Because of the rapid growth of the Ombuds field, as well as the growth of Ombuds staffs within agencies, most COFO members wanted information on developing Ombuds practices, policies, and operating models. Many of the seasoned COFO members were able to share their experiences with newer members, thereby giving them insight into best practices within the Ombuds profession. These experiences allowed newly formed Ombuds offices to get their programs running faster and more efficiently, thereby generating an early and favorable demonstration of the effectiveness of Ombuds programs throughout the federal government.
Membership in COFO has grown dramatically since its inception, from 11 members in 1996 to over 125 members, representing 65 different federal agencies. Several large federal agencies have added ombuds services to three to four sub-agencies within their structure, granting easier access for employees and the public to ombuds. These sub-agency additions have not only increased the number of ombuds but have added to the ranks of COFO membership.
In 1997, The COFO was nominated for and won the Hammer Award, Vice President AI Gore’s special recognition to teams who have made significant contributions in support of the President’s National Performance Review principles of more efficient and less costly government. COFO richly deserves this award in light of the contributions that members have made to their agencies, their government, and their customers.
On March 19, 2002, The Coalition held its first all-day conference at the FDIC to discuss Ombuds practices and the unique role of the federal Ombuds in Alternative Dispute Resolution.
In early 2005, members voted to accept the Coalition of Federal Ombudsman Charter. In 2013 a revised Charter was accepted by the membership. The charter provides further guidance and direction to COFO members and adds a more formal stride to the Coalition of Federal Ombudsman organizational evolution. In 2017 members voted to accept the COFO Endorsement and Practice Commentary for Administrative Conference of the United States Recommendation 2016-5, “The Use of Ombuds in Federal Agencies.”
Most COFO members believe that superior educational opportunities come through their information sharing. One member observed that ombuds practice is not taught in colleges, but it can be learned through COFO. By “showcasing” their programs and discussing difficult or different types of cases, members help each other learn and grow professionally, and this is exactly what they are doing