Amelioration of Individual Conflict of Interest

The complexity of the ombudsman program and the serious nature of its mission do not allow for easy, simple answers to remedy all real or potential conflicts of interest. According to a study conducted by AoA and OIG on states’ compliance with OAA mandates (AoA/OIG, 1993), states tended to use signed statements by employees that indicated the absence of conflicts of interest as the preferred means (43 percent of the time) to implement the mandate of assuring no conflict of interest. State regulations (31 percent) and laws (17 percent) were used also.4

Policies and procedures at the state and local program levels that assist in identifying potential conflicts of interest are an essential first step toward ameliorating such conflicts. The OAA requires such policies. Apart from mechanisms designed to affirmatively identify potential conflicts of interest, several mechanisms are commonly employed to remedy conflicts: prohibition, disclosure, disclosure with alternative options offered, disclosure with refusal to represent a potential client, everyday ethical behavior, and public accountability. For the most part, these mechanisms ameliorate individual conflicts of interest rather than conflicts of interest arising from organizational location and organizational governance.

Prohibition

In the early stages of the ombudsman program’s development, it was widely believed that a simple prohibition of all conflicts would suffice as a remedy. However, enough gray areas of overlapping and competing interests among multiple organizations and individuals have developed as the reality of program implementation has emerged to lead most to eschew complete reliance on simple strictures against conflicts of interest. Nevertheless, prohibition of conflict of interest remains a significant remedy. If prohibition is expected to be effective, however, the situations that create or have the potential to create conflicts of interest must be clearly defined, and such situations must be easily identifiable.

4  

The 1993 AoA/OIG study did not assess whether state ombudsmen or local representatives were subject to conflicts of interest but instead asked about mechanisms used to identify and resolve conflicts of interest.



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