Report: Taxpayer Safeguards

Mediating for Citizens

Ombudsmen in Arizona
Released by: Arizona PIRG Education Fund

An ombudsman office plays an important role in government.  It provides citizens with an outlet for resolving legitimate grievances with government agencies, which can bolster public confidence in government and promote accountability of public officials and state agencies. 

In Arizona, ombudsman offices of several different types and sizes exist.  The Arizona Ombudsman-Citizens’ Aide Office, which handles complaints dealing with state agencies and public access matters, has the most extensive mediation role in the state. 

Purview
In Arizona, the Ombudsman-Citizens’ Aide Office has existed since 1996 and is an office of the legislative branch of government.  The role of the Ombudsman is to help people who are having a problem with a state agency or have a public access dispute with a state or local governmental agency, as well as to offer referrals and information.  The office is designed to be an independent, impartial resource that looks into citizen complaints and helps resolve legitimate grievances.

In addition to resolving complaints, the Ombudsman also educates public officials about open meeting and public records laws.  They provide trainings, develop educational materials (many of which are available on their website), and distribute a quarterly newsletter.

The Ombudsman handles complaints dealing with administrative acts of state government agencies and public access matters.  This is a free service for citizens and public officials.  The Ombudsman can investigate matters and make recommendations, but does not have the authority to make or reverse a decision.  They do not provide legal advice. 

The Ombudsman cannot receive complaints for matters other than those dealing with public access or administrative acts of the State of Arizona.  They cannot take up conflicts with: private individuals, companies or organizations; federal, county or local governments; the Board of Regents, universities, or community colleges; elected officials and their chief advisors; the legislature and its staff; or the judicial branch of government.  The Ombudsman also can decline to look into a complaint when they feel that their intervention would be inappropriate. In instances where they cannot help directly, they will do their best to provide guidance to the complainant.

Recommendations
The Arizona Auditor General should complete a performance audit on the Ombudsman’s office. 
Performance audits are designed to determine whether an agency is achieving the objectives established by the Legislature and managing its resources in an effective, economical, and efficient manner.  These audits focus on programs and issues that are of particular interest to legislators and the public and make recommendations to improve agency operations.

An ombudsman staff position should be created to handle questions or concerns regarding the new federal healthcare legislation and adequate funding should be provided for this position.
Based on our initial assessment, it appears the Arizona Ombudsman-Citizen Aide office has extensive experience working with citizen complainants and an impressive record of resolving complaints.  It makes sense to create a new staff position dedicated exclusively to solving complaints regarding the new federal healthcare legislation.  This ombudsman position also could be located in the Arizona Department of Insurance (which currently has an ombudsman) or in the Arizona Department of Health Services.

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