Know Your Ombudsman

By Joel Guge, PTAC Advisor at North Carolina State University

One of the most beneficial business actions that a supplier and its customer should undertake is working to develop a team or partnership between themselves. This strong relationship will allow both parties to strengthen communication, build business opportunities, and act together to resolve differences or problems that may arise in this relationship. A strong partnership will assist customers and suppliers in working through most problematic situations. There can be, however, times that assistance from outside the partnership is needed to help resolve certain types of problems. For small businesses that contract with federal agencies, this outside assistance can come in the form of an Ombudsman.

In 1996, the United States Congress established the Office of the National Ombudsman. According to the SBA website, the “SBA National Ombudsman works for small businesses to assist them with excessive regulatory issues” Additionally, the website points out that these issues can include such situations as repetitive audits or investigations, excessive fines, penalties, threats, retaliation or other unfair enforcement action. The Ombudsman, as an impartial party, will present any comments concerning possible unfair treatment, that a small business may have, to the appropriate agency for a for a high-level review. The SBA National Ombudsman also works with agencies throughout the Federal Government to address complaints from small businesses and, in turn, help small businesses improve their chance of success.

The SBA website, at, has a wealth of information on the Office of the National Ombudsman, the process for a small business to file a comment or complaint, and the annual report the Ombudsman office supplies to Congress which outlines the rating the Office gives Federal Agencies on their handling of small businesses’ complaints. The website also offers information on the Regulatory Fairness Boards which advise the Ombudsman on federal regulatory issues which concern small businesses.

In addition to the SBA National Ombudsman, many Federal Agencies have their own Ombudsman who is in place to assist small businesses with issues that may arise with their respective agencies. To find more about the agencies that have an Ombudsman, google search: “The Ombudsman in Federal Agencies Master List”. If any difficulty that arises between a small business contractor and its federal agency customer, the best course for correcting the situation is for persons within each organization to work together to bring about an acceptable solution. The next most expeditious route would be for the small business to enlist the services of the agency’s Ombudsman or the SBA National Ombudsman. With either Ombudsman office, the small business will have their complaint heard and addressed in a manner that is fair and timely.

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