Howard Gadlin

Ombudsman, Center for Cooperative Resolution, National Institutes of Health

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: In your work as an ombudsman, is it difficult to not be seen as an agent of the institute for which you work?

A: Yeah, you know lots of people ask that, and it's a really good question. In my experience, now there might be some degree of self-deception because it is to my advantage to think that is not a difficulty. In my experience, it is less than a difficulty than I thought it would be when I was first in this kind of position. I think its because when you have Once you have been around for a while, you can establish some degree of personal credibility that matches the credibility of the role.

In previous jobs I had I was the The position of the ombudsman had already been established. I was fortunate in that the people who had preceded me had fairly good reputations of not being tools of management. That helped. Here, there was no prior history of an office. I had to establish it. We had the theory of it but we had to flesh it out. It takes some time to do that. I think there is a natural skepticism at first, and it is healthy. You tell people that you are going to keep things confidential. You have to really prove that. You have to be really careful that you don't ever violate that because you could screw up the offices reputation and you won't get it back. I think there are some people who will distrust any office of any sort, no matter how well defined it is. No matter what kind of protections for independence it has, it is a part of that agency.

I think you can try to work with them but if they are really unable to trust the office then you try to find some other resource that can help them address their issue in a way that enlists their confidence. There is no reason to try to coerce people into using a resource they don't trust. You can try to ask them to give you an opportunity to work with you and they will see what happens. There is always going to be some number of people who are like that. Their distrust and/or sense of injury from the organization is so profound, or so thorough, or so much a part of the way they look at the world - any number of those kinds of things. That there is no meaningful way of addressing that.