The Ombudsman’s Role at NIH

What is an ombudsman?

An ombudsman is an independent and neutral person who can help you resolve
your lab and workplace conflicts. Ombudsmen provide a confidential and informal environment where you can consider options for addressing issues.

NIH ombudsmen are trained professionals with extensive experience in identifying and resolving both individual and organizational conflicts. We use our knowledge of conflict theory and organizational dynamics to identify the underlying causes of disputes and provide visitors with tools for resolving their issues.

We work with individual visitors, tailoring our approach to each situation. To resolve sensitive issues, ombudsmen employ conflict resolution practices such as mediation, group facilitation, peer panels, coaching, and shuttle diplomacy. However, we will not take action without the approval of the person visiting our office. We also identify systemic conflicts, bringing to management’s attention those practices, norms, policies, and aspects of NIH culture that appear to exacerbate tensions or create problems for fellows, scientists, and administrative staff.

By highlighting these systemic issues and providing suggestions for addressing them, ombudsmen help institutions take steps to improve the work environment across multiple layers of the organization.

Our office is led by the director, and our staff includes the deputy director, five additional ombudsmen, and an administrative assistant.


  • Operate independently of other departments, centers, and institutes
  • Serve as a neutral and impartial resource
  • Work with all employees on an informal basis
  • Strive for a fair process and fairness in our dealings with people
  • Work to facilitate early resolution of problems
  • Promote better communication
  • Provide a safe place to share concerns
  • Answer questions
  • Help analyze complex and difficult situations
  • Help clarify NIH policies and procedures
  • Construct non-adversarial approaches to address issues
  • Facilitate just resolution of problems and disputes
  • Refer you to the appropriate NIH resource, if needed
  • Help you retain control of how to handle your issue

Ombudsmen do not:

  • Accept or provide notice of an alleged violation
  • Control any formal grievance or complaint process
  • Serve as an advocate for any individual
  • Share information with others without an individual’s knowledge or permission
  • Conduct formal investigations
  • Testify or serve as a witness
  • Conduct or issue formal investigative reports
  • Make or change policies or administrative decisions
  • Make binding decisions or determine rights
  • Require anyone to follow ombudsman recommendations
  • Mandate that anyone meet with us