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The Cutting Edge

When you hear the phrase “cutting edge” you probably look around at your computer, cell phone and PDA (personal digital assistant – for the less tech savvy) and think “technology!” We are living in exciting times and technology is experiencing tremendous growth; even though the stock market may be in a period of introspection. When you hear the term “government” the words sluggish and inefficient may come to mind.

Well, I am here to tell you that when it comes to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), the terms “cutting-edge” and “government” form a happy marriage. While government often spends its resources on catching up to the profit-driven private sector, it has become a leader driving the industry when it comes to innovation in dispute resolution. The movement towards the development of ADR programs and initiatives, while in its infancy, is growing bigger and stronger every day.

So how did all of this happen? Many factors came into play but some leading drivers of the government ADR movement were the passage of the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act, a Presidential Memorandum established by President William Jefferson Clinton and an honest devotion to ADR by former Attorney General Janet Reno. This site contains these documents in full and you are encouraged to read them.

As a result of the Presidential Memorandum dated May 1, 1998, an interagency ADR working group was established. This working group was chartered with the task of assisting federal agencies in developing and operating ADR programs. To accomplish this task, the working group established four sections; workplace, contract/procurement, monetary claims against the government, and civil enforcement. The chair of each working group section joined together to form the Federal ADR Council. Additionally, a working group Steering Committee was created to support the work of the sections.

It is through the efforts of these groups, and many other innovators within agencies, that numerous cutting-edge ADR initiatives were born. One of the most notable programs, of which I am proud to be a part, that actually helped lay some of the groundwork for the proliferation in the field is REDRESS® (Resolve Employment Disputes Reach Equitable Solutions Swiftly), the United States Postal Service’s EEO mediation program. This program is available to over 800,000 employees nationwide and is the largest EEO mediation program in the world. Perhaps one of the most significant contributions to the ADR movement is the research conducted about REDRESS by Professor Lisa Bingham at Indiana University and the Indiana Conflict Resolution Institute. This research has been cited repeatedly by systems designers and ADR advocates as proof that their work has significant value.

Not only has the federal government taken a lead in mainstreaming ADR usage, many state and local agencies have also developed ADR programs to help improve their services. All in all, it appears that most ADR programs have been highly successful in bringing “cutting-edge” innovation to government. Now, it is time for the private sector to follow suit and build on the government’s success.

If you have information about government ADR activity that you would like to share, we encourage submissions and suggestions. Please send materials to me in electronic format, including reproduction permission, at [email protected].


Andrew Colsky

Andrew Colsky mediates employment disputes including complex multi-party disputes. He is also an ADR program/system designer who served as an integral part of developing the world's largest employment mediation program at the U.S. Postal Service. MORE >

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