Coalition of Federal Ombudsman
Advancing knowledge, skills, and experiences of Ombuds and other similar positions in the federal government.
What is COFO?
In July 1996, the Coalition of Federal Ombudsman (COFO) was formed as an organization of Ombuds practitioners within the federal government. The goals of COFO are to support, assist, advance, and edify
- those who serve federal government institutions as Ombuds;
- those institutions considering, developing, and hosting Ombuds programs; and
- those who benefit from Ombuds programs.
COFO promotes ombudsmanship, our own and that of new practitioners, by continuously advancing attitudes, knowledge, skills, and experiences. COFO recognizes and honors the widely divergent constituents we serve, practices we use, and people we are. COFO strives for fairness when assisting those involved with and affected by federal agencies.
What is an Ombuds?
An Ombuds is part of an integrated conflict management system, complementing, but not replacing, the formal dispute resolution processes. An Ombuds is all of the following:
- Confidential: The Ombuds will not identify you or pass on information you provide in confidence to anyone without your permission, except in cases of imminent threat of serious physical harm or as required by law.
- Impartial and Neutral: The Ombuds considers the interests and concerns of all parties to disputes, with the aim of achieving fair outcomes. The Ombuds does not arbitrate, adjudicate, testify, or participate in any formal grievance process.
- Independent: The Ombuds usually reports directly to senior management and is authorized to work with all members of an organization and the public, depending on their charter. The Ombuds looks for trends and reports systemic and individual issues.
What Does COFO Do?
COFO represents the federal Ombuds community at the Alternative Dispute Resolution Interagency Workgroup and other Ombuds organizations. COFO members
- share their professional skills;
- develop training opportunities that address the unique federal environment;
- provide assistance to agencies developing Ombuds programs;
- mentor new Ombuds;
- work toward common goals to advance the Ombuds profession;
- identify and communicate “best practices”; and
- promote a commitment to an inclusive workforce and excellence in program administration.
COFO consolidates member concerns and presents comments on proposed policies affecting federal Ombuds.
Who Can Be a COFO Member?
COFO is open to any federal employee working as an
- alternative dispute resolution specialist (not all positions acting under Ombuds standards have the title Ombuds), or
- other similar positions in a federal agency.
Others interested in Ombuds practice may attend COFO meetings.
When and Where Does COFO Meet?
COFO meets monthly, usually on the second Wednesday of each month, at various locations, sponsored by a member Ombuds. These meetings are informal and topics discussed are brought up by the member Ombuds. COFO holds an annual conference that includes speakers and topics related to serving as Ombuds in the federal environment. Locations and dates of these meetings are posted on the COFO’s website.
The word Ombudsman (om – buds – man) originated in Sweden during the 19th century, where the term applied to a public official appointed to investigate citizens’ complaints against governmental agencies. According to one scholar, the term refers to a “person who has an ear to the people.”
Ombuds listen, focus on issues and explore options, clarify procedures and policy, open channels of communication, serve as a neutral third party, and work to achieve fair and equitable solutions.