What is An Ombudsman?
Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines the word "Ombudsman" as "a government official (as in Sweden or New Zealand) appointed to receive and investigate complaints made by individuals against abuses or capricious acts of public officials." After careful investigation, research, and analysis the ombudsman makes recommendations to resolve complaints that are found justified. Additionally, the ombudsman may provide information and answer questions relating to government.
The gender neutral term “ombudsman” is Swedish in origin. Sweden established the office of Ombudsman in 1809. It has been a sound institution in Sweden and is widely accepted in Europe, Africa, New Zealand, Australia, most Canadian provinces, and several states by legislative enactment. Governor Robert D. Ray initially established the Office of Ombudsman in Iowa as part of his office. The Iowa Citizens' Aide Act was passed by the General Assembly in 1972. It created the office by statute and placed it within the legislative branch of government to ensure its independence.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I Section 20 of the Iowa Constitution guarantees citizens the right to petition government for redress of grievances. Government has grown very large and complex at the state, county, and municipal levels. Each level has a wide variety of divisions, authorities, agencies, district offices, boards, commissions, etc. It is understandable that people may experience difficulty in addressing complaints and questions to the proper offices or officials. The Office of Ombudsman was established for the purpose of providing Iowans with one office to which they may take grievances. Complaints receive a fair and impartial determination on the merits of the grievance.
The Office of Ombudsman was established by and operates under the authority of Iowa Code Chapter 2C. The office has adopted rules, Iowa Administrative Code , regarding the office's organization, practices and procedures.
The Office of Ombudsman serves as an independent and impartial agency to which citizens can air their grievances about government. By facilitating communications between citizens and government and making recommendations to improve administrative practices and procedures, the Ombudsman promotes responsiveness and quality in government.
The Ombudsman has authority to investigate complaints about Iowa state and local government, with certain exceptions. The Ombudsman attempts to resolve most problems informally. Following an investigation, the Ombudsman may make findings and recommendations and publish a report.
A Final thought
The ombudsman system is based upon the principle that every person has a right to have his or her grievances against the government heard and, if justified, satisfied. The Office of Ombudsman provides Iowans a non-partisan independent agency where action can be taken to resolve their complaints.