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What are the Departmental Reasons for Using ADR and Mediation?

In 1997, the General Accounting Office (GAO) completed its study of private sector companies' and Federal agencies' experiences using ADR techniques, including mediation. Organizations studied included Brown Root, Inc., Hughes Electronics Corporation, the Polaroid Corporation, Rockwell International Corporation, TRWInc., the Departments of Agriculture, Air Force, and State, the Postal Service, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and the Seattle Federal Executive Board's Interagency ADR Consortium - a program which provides for the sharing of ADR resources among Federal agencies in the Seattle area. Mediation was the most prevalent method used for resolving workplace disputes. These organizations used ADR to avoid more formal dispute resolution processes lawsuits and, especially in the Federal sector, formal administrative redress procedures. One reason for the use of ADR was that traditional dispute resolution processes had become costly in both time and money.

The organizations studied in the GAO report regarded ADR, especially mediation, as useful in resolving workplace disputes, thereby avoiding more formal dispute resolution processes. A case was considered resolved if it was either settled or voluntarily withdrawn by the employee. Managers said they generally believed that by avoiding litigation, mediation saved their organizations time and money. Perhaps the best indicator of the organizations' belief in ADR was that all of them continued to use some form of ADR.

The use of ADR in the Federal sector was spurred in the early 1990s by a dramatic increase in the number of discrimination complaints, along with the costs, time, and frustration involved in attempting to resolve them. Federal managers and employee representatives have long criticized the Federal administrative redress system -- especially as it affects workplace disputes involving claims of discrimination -- as being adversarial, inefficient, time consuming, and costly.

Another factor in the widening adoption of ADR practices has been a recognition that traditional methods of dispute resolution do not always get at the underlying issues between disputants. Traditional methods of dispute resolution -- lawsuits in the private sector, and traditional EEO complaints in the Federal sector -- are predominately position-based. Simply stated, each disputant stakes out a position, such as a complaint of discrimination or a defense against a complaint, and hopes to win the case. But interest-based dispute resolution, which is the basis for mediation, focuses on both determining the disputants' underlying interests and working to resolve their conflict at a more basic level, perhaps even bringing about a change in the work environment in which their conflict developed.

Effective November 9, 1999, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) required all agencies to establish or make available an ADR program for both the pre-complaint and formal complaint stages. The EEOC has noted the advantages of techniques that emphasize an understanding of disputants' underlying interests over processes that focus on the validity of their positions (e.g., a complaint of discrimination or a defense against a complaint).