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Executive Summary of the Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center for the USDA (FY 2001 )

Executive Summary

Some degree of conflict in an organization is inevitable – even healthy. Yet, if not managed effectively, conflict saps vital resources in federal agencies, costing them millions of dollars to respond to EEO complaints, grievances, administrative appeals, litigation, and other workplace and program conflicts. Unmanaged conflict also results in reduced productivity, low employee morale, and low customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, when it comes to conflict, USDA is no exception.

In USDA, the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) programs have taken significant steps toward changing the way USDA manages conflict. They have begun to build a strong foundation for preventing destructive conflict and, when conflict occurs, bringing it to a conclusion that all parties perceive as fair and equitable. Resolving conflict early can help maintain or restore relationships, both in the workplace and with users and recipients of USDA program services, while at the same time avoiding the costs of litigation, administrative hearings, or investigations.

The following are some statistics for ADR program successes in FY 2001:

  • Over 5,000 USDA employees received training in ADR and conflict management. Over 5,000 USDA employees received services from an ADR program for a workplace conflict.
  • 83.7% of all workplace conflicts that used any form of ADR at the early intervention stage (before a complaint or grievance was filed) were successfully resolved.
  • 79.3% of all workplace conflicts that used mediation at the early intervention stage were successfully resolved.
  • 82% of the 4,400 program conflicts handled by the USDA Certified State Mediation Program resulted in an agreement.
  • 67.1% of all formal EEO complaints that went through ADR were settled.
  • 54.5% of all informal EEO complaints that went through ADR were settled.

The following are some opportunities for USDA to receive greater benefit from the use of ADR and other collaborative processes:

  • Only 165 of the 1,509 informal EEO complaints filed in FY 2001 (11%) went through ADR, and only 90 (6%) were settled through ADR.
  • With the exception of disputes involving agricultural loans, the use of ADR to resolve disputes between USDA and the recipients of the range of USDA program services is minimal.
  • Increased awareness and early use of ADR could result in more workplace disputes being resolved without resort to the more adversarial systems and without incurring the costs associated with those systems.
  • Greater focus on initiatives that promote collaboration and, where permissible, consensus-building with private, state, and other federal parties – processes like negotiated rulemaking, partnering, community forums, and facilitated dialogues – could result in improved relationships, greater acceptance of USDA decisions, and a decrease in litigation and workplace violence.

Ultimately, to reduce the avoidable costs of conflict, a change is needed in how we at USDA respond to conflict – that is, a change in culture. This involves changing how employees view conflict, how peers respond to conflict within agencies and across agency lines, how supervisors manage employees, how agencies explain USDA programs and decisions to customers, and how we seek to implement and enforce our regulations. Such work takes years and involves profound organizational changes. With leadership and vision from USDA’s highest levels, such an effort could serve as a model for the rest of government.

There is no better time than the present for USDA to take actions aimed at becoming an organization that maximizes the use of collaborative approaches to solving problems in the workplace, with other federal entities, and with the public.


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