There are a few key areas involving the general welfare of the public, for which Congress has created federal ombudsman programs. They generally address the concerns of citizens whose status or condition may warrant extra protection or monitoring of rights. They include the elderly, those requiring long-term care in nursing facilities, juvenile offenders, and children in general. Other specialty ombudsman programs, such as for environmental protection or small business organizations, also have been established at the federal level.
Through special or earmarked funds and grants, federal monies assist many state ombudsman programs in several of the above areas of concern, as well as additional ones (such as workers’ compensation or public transportation). In large jurisdictions, the monies may trickle down to local government. New York City holds the unique distinction of being the only geographic entity in the world to have an elected ombudsman.
Where there is no ombudsman office at the state level, inspectors general (including offices of an attorney general) and internal affairs programs provide much of the same function. Every state has an inspector general or attorney general, although such positions are more often concerned with systemic problems than individual grievances. However, when state inspectors general receive complaints from more than one individual, they may investigate for more systemic waste or fraud, or they may initiate class action suits on behalf of individuals with similar complaints. These organizations are parallel with ombuds in that they are intended to function independent of an agency’s administration or influence.