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The Federal Government and ADR: How Things Get Done

A myriad of new laws and policies has spawned tremendous growth of federal government alternative dispute resolution (ADR) initiatives. Some of these affect our litigation system, others affect the way that federal agencies conduct business with the public, and still others affect internal agency operations. This growth has been responsible for improved public access to government and for government’s saving valuable resources by reducing unnecessary litigation. But is anyone watching the shop? While there is no central agency responsible for monitoring all ADR laws and policies; as this would hinder, more than help the growth of ADR, there is an effective network in place that assists with federal ADR practices. This network consists of the Interagency ADR Working Group, the Interagency Working Group Sections, the ADR Steering Committee and, the Federal ADR Council.


The Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996 recognized the growing importance of ADR in resolving disputes and the need for cooperation and sharing of ADR information among federal agencies. To encourage interagency ADR efforts, the ADR Act required the President to identify a person or group to be responsible for coordinating the ADR efforts of federal agencies. On May 1, 1998, President Clinton, through a memorandum1 to the heads of executive departments and agencies, established the Interagency Alternative Dispute Resolution Working Group (“The Working Group”).

The purpose of the working group is to facilitate, encourage, and provide coordination for agencies in such areas as:

1. development of programs that employ alternative means of dispute resolution,
2. training of agency personnel to recognize when and how to use alternative means of dispute resolution,
3. development of procedures that permit agencies to obtain the services of neutrals on an expedited basis, and
4. record keeping to ascertain the benefits of alternative means of dispute resolution.

The Working Group is the generic term used by President William J. Clinton referring to a general committee to facilitate and encourage agency use of alternative means of dispute resolution. 2 It is comprised of the Cabinet Departments and, as determined by the Attorney General, such other agencies with a significant interest in dispute resolution. Today, this has evolved into the ADR Steering Committee, ADR Council and the Working Group Sections.


The Attorney General, the Office of Management and Budget, and The Working Group created four sections to address the major types of disputes encountered by federal agencies. These sections are: Contracts and Procurement, Civil Enforcement, Workplace Disputes, and Claims Against the Government.

The Sections concentrated their efforts during 1998 on providing agencies with the necessary tools to design, implement, and administer ADR programs. The Sections are expanding their progress by offering mentoring programs and small skills building sessions. The Sections are assisted by the Steering Committee through the sharing of information and the coordination of efforts as needed.


The ADR Steering Committee (the Steering Committee), formerly known as the Federal ADR Network, is comprised of ADR professionals who

  1. discuss emerging issues affecting federal ADR programs or processes;
  2. share existing ADR expertise and materials;
  3. assist the Sections in their education and mentoring efforts; and
  4. make recommendations to the ADR Council and provide assistance to the Council and its members as appropriate.

It serves as the central forum for the advancement of ADR in the federal government. Specifically, it coordinates multi-agency ADR initiatives, promotes best practices for federal ADR, conducts discourse and disseminates information regarding federal policy on ADR, and provides policy recommendations to the Council. It supports the ADR Council by providing expertise and product as requested by the Council and deemed appropriate by the Steering Committee, and by making policy recommendations to the Council.

The Steering Committee is made up of the chairs of each Working Group Section, one senior level ADR practitioner from each cabinet level agency and other individuals who provide significant input. It has remained active through the continuing efforts of the existing membership and support from DOJ. Meetings are held monthly where new and important issues affecting both the ADR community and ADR programs are discussed.


The ADR Council was established by former Attorney General Janet Reno in response to a recommendation from the ADR Steering Committee that such a body be created to address crosscutting policy issues generated by the expansion of federal administrative ADR programs. As the chair of the Council, Ms. Reno designated as members of the ADR Council the chairs of the four Sections of the Working Group and other senior government officials.

The Council is intended to provide guidance on matters of policy and government-wide ADR issues. It is expected that the ADR Council will meet no more than three times per year. Specific projects undertaken by the Council may be the subject of studies and reports from committees assigned to those matters by the ADR Council.

The efforts of the numerous individuals involved in these groups have helped the United States government integrate new and innovative ADR programs into its daily operations.

End Notes

1.William J. Clinton, Memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, May 1, 1998

2. Id.


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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