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Early Resolution and Conciliation

OASCR, through the Early Resolution and Conciliation Division, provides policy guidance to USDA ADR Program Managers and monitors agencies' compliance with USDA's policy on the use of ADR. Every USDA Agency and Office has an ADR Program. Implementation of the program may vary from agency to agency. Each agency's ADR program is developed following USDA policy guidelines based on the culture of the agency. For more information about your agency's ADR program, contact your ADR Program Manager. Consult the USDA ADR Program Managers List for the telephone number to your agency's ADR program manager.

USDA ADR Programs Contact List, (PDF 27KB)

What is ADR?
The terms "alternative dispute resolution" or "ADR" are used to describe a variety of non-adversarial techniques to resolving conflict. When non-adversarial approaches are used, the parties in the conflict decide what techniques they want to use to resolve their own problems. This is different from traditional administrative processes used for Administrative Grievances, Negotiated Grievances, Unfair Labor Practices, and Prohibited Personnel Practices. ADR does not employ adjudicatory methods in which a judge or hearing officer decides how to resolve the dispute for the people in the conflict. ADR is beneficial because it may decrease often decreases the time and cost of resolving disputes or conflict, increase customer satisfaction, and employee morale.

The ADR techniques used at USDA include mediation, consultation, fact-finding, facilitation, and group dynamic problem solving to help customers and employees at all levels of the organization address and/or resolve disputes. For a description of each of these techniques consult Departmental Regulation 4710-1, Alternative Dispute Resolution (HTML) (PDF)

The primary ADR technique used by most USDA ADR Programs is mediation. Mediation is an informal process in which a neutral third party assists the parties in the conflict in reaching a voluntary, mutually agreeable settlement. It gives the parties the opportunity to discuss the issues, clear up misunderstandings, determine the parties' underlying interests or concerns, find areas of agreement, and, ultimately, to incorporate those areas of agreement into resolutions. The mediator does not determine the resolution for the parties, but rather, helps the parties to agree to their own mutually acceptable resolution of the conflict. By agreeing to mediate, you do not give up your right to file a formal EEO complaint or a grievance. If mediation does not result in a mutual agreement, you may pursue more formal avenues to resolve your issues.

NOTE: There are mandatory timelines for filing an EEO complaint and for pursuing administrative and negotiated grievances. These mandatory timelines may still apply even if you attempt to resolve a conflict through mediation or other ADR techniques. Those who initiate a complaint or grievance and then choose ADR as the method to attempt resolution of their conflict still must comply with these timelines. Consult your EEO Counselor, Human Resources Specialist, or ADR professional early in the resolution process to avoid missing any mandatory timelines for filing an EEO complaint. For more information about the timelines for filing an EEO Complaint, refer to How To File An Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint , on this Web site. For more information on the timelines for filing administrative or negotiated grievances you may contact a Human Resources Specialist or appropriate union official.

How is mediation conducted?
Mediation may take from two hours to a full day. In rare cases, follow-up sessions may be required, depending on the issues and parties involved. Mediation begins by introducing the parties. Then the mediator gives an opening statement. In the opening statement, the mediator stresses, neutrality, fairness and the importance of open discussion. The mediator will not make any decisions. The mediator is simply there to assist the parties in resolving the issues. Following the introductions, each participant is given an opportunity to state the issues in his or her own words and explain the personal impact. Generally, the party who asked for the mediation will make his or her remarks first.

After the introductions and statements are presented, the mediator may meet with each party separately; this is called a caucus. During the caucus the parties may discuss, in confidence with the mediator, other interests, needs, and issues relating to the conflict. It may be necessary to have more than one caucus.

After the caucus, the parties may then begin to develop options or steps they may each take to resolve the issues. If the parties both agree on a resolution, the agreement is put into writing and each party signs. The written agreement is then binding upon the parties. If the parties could not solve the conflict through the mediation, the mediator reviews the progress made and advises the parties of options available through other processes. The mediation session is not taped or transcribed. Notes taken from the mediation session are shredded.