Government Support: Task Force Meeting Covers ADR’s Reach into Federal Agencies

By Katerina Karamousalidou

A CPR Government & ADR Task Force meeting last month focused on the U.S. government’s executive branch alternative dispute resolution use. The participants, who included authors of a recent federal government ADR study, described ADR use and emphasized the need for support and assessments of the effectiveness of the processes used to negotiate and settle.

The April 19 meeting started with an introduction from CPR Senior Vice-President Ellen Parker, who explained that the Task Force’s mission is to educate companies, law firms, and government agencies and their attorneys on the laws and the specific requirements for engaging in ADR with target government agencies.

The Task Force comprises leading practitioners, corporate counsel, neutrals, academics, and current and former federal government employees, including ADR specialists and dispute resolution directors. Parker introduced the Committee chair, Pete Swanson, Director of the Office of Conflict Management and Prevention at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a 75-year-old independent Washington, D.C., agency whose mission is to preserve and promote labor-management peace and cooperation.  

Swanson, together with Jeremy Graboyes, Director of Public and Interagency Programs at the Administrative Conference of the United States, an independent federal agency whose statutory mission is to identify ways to improve the procedures by which federal agencies protect the public interest and determine the rights, privileges, and obligations of private persons.

They dove into ACUS’s history and the work it has been doing in promoting ADR use by federal agencies. Swanson and Graboyes were joined by University of Nebraska College of Law Prof. Kristen M. Blankley, of Lincoln, Neb., and Mediator Judith Starr, who heads ADR consulting firm Starr ADR in Palmetto, Fla. Blankley and Starr are co-authors of a consulting report on ACUS’s work, “Alternative Dispute Resolution in Agency Administrative Programs with the Administrative Conference of the United States” (Dec. 17, 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/38Vaeii).

Jeremy Graboyes set the stage by explaining ACUS’s mission in promoting effective public participation in the regulatory process by reducing unnecessary litigation and improving the use of science and the effectiveness of applicable laws.

He emphasized that ACUS has long been active in examining how agencies use ADR to manage federal administrative programs fairly and efficiently. ACUS also has published a variety of ADR-related reports in source books during its tenure, including a 1995 practitioners’ deskbook developed in partnership with the CPR Institute, the “The ADR Breakthrough for Government Contract Disputes.”

The agency’s efforts led to passage of the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act in 1990 and 1996 (an ACUS wiki explains the acts here), and the Negotiated Rulemaking Act (ACUS wiki here). Both acts designated ACUS as the lead agency responsible for coordinating ADR and negotiated rulemaking.

Jeremy Graboyes also mentioned that ACUS undertook an important project, the use of ombuds in federal agencies, and launched a new project to investigate how agencies might better use different types of ADR to resolve matters related to their core statutory authorities.

ACUS has recently established an ADR Advisory Group to advise the agency on potential new initiatives to improve ADR design and administration across the federal government, working closely with Pete Swanson and FMCS.

Kristen Blankley explained the overview, methodology, and main research areas of the ACUS consulting report. Judith Starr then talked about ADR’s deep historical roots in federal agencies since early 1900s to 1990 ADRA, the subsequent legislative landmarks, and the ACUS’s role in assisting in executive branch ADR implementation.

Blankley analyzed the most preferred selection and implementation of ADR modalities, including mediation, facilitation, ombuds, arbitration, conciliation, and factfinding.  She reviewed recommendations regarding the selection and implementation of ADR processes in relation to the increased visibility of these programs, as well as the need to establish routine outside program evaluation.

Judith Starr said that staffing practices are highly dependent on agency resources. She talked about training programs and opportunities, their variation in length and form, and recommended continuing education, certification opportunities, and specialized training. Blankley emphasized the importance of increasing transparency in ADR proceedings, confidentiality, and harmonized ethics rules. Blankley also highlighted ADR case management strategies and tools, the importance of external audits, software review, and ethics policies for case managers.

Starr concluded her presentation by talking about interagency ADR operations, and Blankley discussed areas for further research, such as wellness, diversity, online dispute resolution, and supporting ADR across the executive branch.

The meeting concluded with a Q-and-A session.

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The author, an LLM student focusing on international commercial arbitration at Pepperdine University School of Law’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution in Malibu, Calif., is a Spring 2022 CPR Intern.

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