May 2000

In new ‘Ombdusman’ role, Stow still tracks staff concerns

ORNL employees who have been accustomed to having the Ethics Office as a place to voice concerns and seek advice still have that resource available to them. Steve Stow, who has served as ORNL’s ethics officer for the past several years, has retained those duties. The title is different however. He is now the ORNL “Ombudsman.”

“It’s business as usual, except under another name,” says Stow. (“Ombudsman” is derived from a Swedish word for “representative.”)

“We still expect issues to be addressed by one’s line management whenever possible. When that approach does not work, or when it is inappropriate to discuss something with the line management, then the Ombudsman office is the place to come.”

ORNL’s ethics program was largely an element of the former contractor, Lockheed Martin. However, Stow says UT-Battelle saw merit in the concept and asked him to continue.

“People have felt pretty much at ease in expressing concerns to this office, and I want people to know that it is continuing,” Stow says.

In resolving those issues, Stow often guides employees through normal processes and works closely with Human Resources’ staff. Correspondingly, he works issues with organizations and offices most closely tied with the issue: Security matters, for instance, are usually worked through ORNL Security.

Other issues he has dealt with range from ethics, waste, fraud or abuse to personnel interactions, applications of policies and procedures, conflict of interest issues and use of government resources.

“When we are presented with issues, we deal with them in as much confidentiality as possible, Stow says.”

Stow has also taken on a new duty—a technology-transfer ombudsman role, where he will deal with issues arising in partnership interactions. This is a new role established at most DOE facilities at the initiative of Secretary Richardson.

The persistence of rumors is another area Stow is willing to address. He’ll try to get answers to rumors that are submitted to his office—either confirming them or laying them to rest. The important thing, he says, is that the new management team can better deal with errant information if they know what's circulating.

Stow says the question of whether ethics training and surveys will continue has not been decided. Surveys, he says, are a possibility. His main message is that Lab employees still have a place to voice their concerns.

“I’ll do essentially the same thing. Employees should contact my office with any concerns, questions, rumors or issues that need resolution . . . all the things they would have contacted me about in the past.”

He adds that the Employee Concerns Program, which is coordinated by the Office of Workforce Diversity, is another place for staff members to seek help.

The ORNL Ombudsman’s helpline number is 241-5676. Stow’s number is 576-7802.—B.C.


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