Policy Letter

Sign-On Letter from over 50 organizations supporting legislation to strengthen the independence of the EPA Ombudsman's Office

Representative Dennis Hastert

Representative Richard Gephardt

United States House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representatives,

Our organizations submit this letter in support of H.R. 3656, the Ombudsman Reauthorization Act of 2000, or amendments to the VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act for FY2001 that are made on the House floor that would implement H.R. 3656. This legislation will greatly aid citizens' efforts to ensure that their needs and views are fully considered in the EPA's decision-making process regarding Superfund and other toxic waste sites. Many Members of Congress have worked with the Ombudsman's Office and there is bipartisan support for the vital role this office plays.

The EPA National Ombudsman, or "EPA watchdog," receives requests and complaints from Members of Congress and citizens concerning Superfund and other hazardous materials programs and conducts investigations into those complaints. The EPA National Ombudsman then makes findings of facts and non-binding recommendations to the EPA on how to resolve the dispute(s).

For numerous communities who have felt the EPA was unresponsive to community needs, the National Ombudsman has assisted in resolving problems. The EPA National Ombudsman's Office has investigated and brought to resolution conflicts at Superfund sites around the nation. For example, over the last eight years, the National Ombudsman's Office has helped citizens from the states of California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Ohio, Missouri, Montana, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington. In some instances, assistance was in response to a request from Members of Congress. Likewise, citizens and Members of Congress have praised the work of the Ombudsman's Office. Enclosed is a recent Tampa Tribune editorial entitled "The Eroding Credibility of the EPA," that highlights the type of conflicts the Ombudsman often works hard to resolve and a Washington Post article that illustrates some of his accomplishments.

Essential to our support for the Ombudsman's reauthorization is the American Bar Association's (ABA) Model Ombudsman Statute as referenced in this legislation. The ABA Standards embodied in this Model Statute will provide the Ombudsman with the ability to convene public hearings and meetings on the record; interview witnesses on the record; subpoena witnesses and documents relevant to Ombudsman investigations; and select and conduct cases with critical independence from the EPA. It is also essential that the EPA National Ombudsman's Office have adequate resources to operate effectively.

For over twenty years the ABA's "twelve essential characteristics" have provided guidance to mainstream public-sector ombudsman positions across the country (see attachments). The States of Alaska, Nebraska, Hawaii, Iowa and Arizona have empowered their Ombudsmen with some of these essential characteristics. A number of Federal Agencies also have Ombudsman positions with some aspects of the "twelve essential characteristics" including the IRS, FDA and Commerce Departments.

Some members of Congress have expressed concerns that this legislation would give too much power to the Ombudsman. However, the legislation imposes important limitations on the role the Office plays. For example, under the amendment, the Ombudsman does not have the direct power to 1) compel any decision; 2) make, change, or set aside a law, policy or administrative/managerial decision, nor to compel an entity or any person to make those changes; or 3) substitute for an administrative or judicial proceeding for determining anyone's rights.

The EPA National Ombudsman serves the invaluable function of being the last recourse available to Superfund communities. The Ombudsman is also, in some cases, the first office to adequately investigate and resolve the problems faced by communities and individuals affected by hazardous waste. We respectfully submit that reauthorization, as described above, would allow the EPA National Ombudsman's Office to continue providing a vital service to the American public.


20/20 Vision

Washington, DC

Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility

Valdez, AK

Alberton Community Coalition for Environmental Health

Alberton, MT

American Lands Alliance

Washington, DC

Arrest the Incinerator Remediation

Lockhaven, PA

Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning

Washington, DC

American Friends Service Committee

Northeast Ohio Office

Akron, OH

Campaign to Safeguard America's Waters

Earth Island Institute

Haines, AK

Cetacean Society International

Georgetown, CT

Chemical Weapons Working Group

Berea, KY

Citizens Progressive Alliance

Denver, CO

Clean Air Hotline

Port Angeles, WA

Cold Mountain-Cold Rivers

Missoula, MT

Committee to Bridge the Gap

Los Angeles, CA

Common Ground

Berea, KY

Brio Community Group

Houston, TX

Citizens Advocating Responsible Treatment

Coeur d'Alene, ID

Citizens Against Toxic Exposure

Pensacola, FL

Clean Water Action

Washington, DC

Concerned Citizens of Lake Township

Uniontown, OH

Cook Inlet Keeper

Homer, AK

Committee for Clean Air and Water

Tarpon Springs, FL

Don't Waste Arizona

Phoenix, AZ

Environmental Association for Great Lakes Education

Duluth, MN

Friends of Miller Peninsula State Park

Port Angeles, WA

Friends of the Earth

Washington, DC

Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention

Houston, TX

Global Response

Boulder, CO

Glynn Environmental Coalition

Brunswick, GA

Government Accountability Project

Washington, DC


Washington, DC

Grand Canyon Trust

Flagstaff, AZ


Jersey Shore, PA

Idaho Conservation League

Boise, ID

International Marine Mammal

Project of Earth Island Institute

San Francisco, CA

Kentucky Environmental Foundation

Berea, KY

Kootenai Environmental Alliance

Coeur d'Alene, ID

Lead Safe Idaho

Buhl, ID

Mangrove Action Project

Port Angeles, WA

Mineral Policy Center

Washington, DC

Mission Society of St. Gregorius

Salt Lake City, UT


Missoula, MT

Non-Stockpile Chemical Weapons Coalition

Berea, KY

North-Missoula Community Development Corporation

Missoula, MT

Olympic Environmental Council

Sequim, WA

Overland Neighborhood Environmental Watch

Overland Park, CO

Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane

Spokane, WA

People for A Liveable Community

Port Townsend, WA

PEER New England

Lexington, MA

Pennsylvania Environmental Network

Fumble, PA

Protect the Peninsula's Future

North Olympic Peninsula, WA

Public Citizen

Washington, DC

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

Washington, DC

Project On Government Oversight

Washington, DC

Quincy Concern

Quincy, WA

Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center

Boulder, CO

Salmon and Wildlife Advocates

Sequim, WA

Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

Washington, DC

Site Specific Advisory Board Rocky Mountain Arsenal

Commerce City, CO

Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition

San Jose, CA

Silver Valley People's Action Coalition

Kellogg, ID

Spirit Tree

Indianapolis, IN


Philadelphia, PA

Summitville TAG/ Summitville Superfund Site

Del Norte, CO

Squirt Irrigation

Kellogg, ID

Trans Alaska Gas System Environmental Review Committee

Anchorage, AK

Tongass Conservation Society

Ketchikan, AK

Tri-State Environmental Council

Chester, WV

U.S. Public Interest Research Group

Washington, DC

Waste Action Project

Seattle, WA

Women's Voices for the Earth

Missoula, MT

Working Group on Community Right to Know

Washington, DC

Worldworks I- Advocates for Posterity

Denver, CO

For further information:

Danielle Brian (202) 466-5539

Project On Government Oversight, Washington, DC

Grant Cope (202) 546-9707

U.S.Public Interest Research Group, Washington, DC

Lisa Mosca, (202) 544-2714

Working Group on Community Right-to-Know, Washington, DC

Cc: Members of the House of Representatives



The twelve essential characteristics for Federal, state and local governments that want to create an Ombudsman, as per the ABA's 1969 Resolution:

1. Authority of the ombudsman to criticize all agencies, officials, and public employees except courts and their personnel, legislative bodies and their personnel, and their chief executive and his personal staff;

2. Independence of the ombudsman from control by any other officer, except for his responsibility to the legislative body;

3. Appointment by the legislative body, preferably more than a majority of the legislative body, such as two thirds;

4. Independence of the ombudsman through a long term, not less than five years, with freedom from removal except for cause, determined by more than a majority of the legislative body;

5. A high salary equivalent to that of a designated top officer;

6. Freedom of the ombudsman to employ his own assistants and to delegate them, without restrictions of civil service and classifications acts;

7. Freedom of the ombudsman to investigate any act or failure to act by any agency, official, or public employee;

8. Access of the ombudsman to all public records he finds relevant to an investigation;

9. Authority to inquire into fairness, correctness of findings, motivation, adequacy of reasons, efficiency, and procedural propriety of any action or inaction by any agency, official, or public employee; 10. Discretionary power to determine what complaints to investigate and to determine what criticisms to make or to publicize;

11. Opportunity for any agency, official, or public employee criticized by the ombudsman to have advance notice of the criticism and to publish with the criticism an answering statement; and,

12. Immunity of the ombudsman and his staff from civil liability on account of official action.


Current and prior Ombudsman investigation sites and their locations:

Alberton- MT

Brio Refining-TX

Bunker Hill-ID


East Liverpool-OH




Shattuck Chemical-CO

Stauffer Chemical-FL

Times Beach-MO