Institutionalizing Ombudsman: An Analysis of Two External Facing Ombudsman Offices in the U.S. Federal Government

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Virginia Tech

The number of Ombudsman offices in U.S. federal agencies rose dramatically in the 1990s. This study investigates why, despite the efforts of policymakers to force staff reductions across the federal government, Ombudsman offices continued to be established to the point that almost every agency has an Ombudsman. This study uses neo-institutionalist theory to pinpoint indicators that explain what has triggered the proliferation of external facing Ombudsmen in the federal government. The results of this historical retrospective investigation, which uses a mixed methods approach, indicate that the offices were created to ensure procedural justice and as a response to both: stakeholder pressures (since the population became more vocal and active, demanding access to the government, transparency, and accountability) and congressional mandates (such as the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act (ADRA) of 1990 and 1996 the Alternative Dispute Resolution Acts from 1998). This is consistent with neo-institutionalist expectations that organizations change as the result of pressures from forces in the environment combined with the drive for survival. As change accelerates, isomorphism occurs as organizations and agencies adopt strategies that have worked for other similar organizations in their environment.

Ombudsman, Ombudsmen, procedural justice, dispute resolution, government accountability, stakeholders, neo-institutional theory