What is the Alaska State Ombudsman?

An ombudsman is someone who investigates citizens’ complaints. The Alaska State Ombudsman is based in the legislative branch and serves as part of the checks and balances of government. Established in 1975, the ombudsman is appointed by the Legislature, confirmed by the governor, and serves for a five-year term.

There are many types of ombudsmen. Some are municipal, like the Anchorage Ombudsman. Some work within universities, some work within news organizations, and some work within private organizations.

The word “ombudsman” comes from Sweden and Scandinavia. The word means “representative.” The first legislative ombudsman was created in 1809 by the Swedish Parliament as part of the separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

What does the Alaska State Ombudsman do?

The Alaska State Ombudsman investigates citizen complaints about administrative acts of state agencies and determines appropriate remedies. The Alaska State Ombudsman is not an advocate. We are a neutral, objective organization that looks at the facts of a situation before coming to any conclusions.

The Alaska State Ombudsman promotes fair and efficient government through objective inquiry and well-reasoned recommendations for meaningful, measurable improvement. We are committed to serving Alaskans by adhering to the following guidelines:

  • Objectivity: We are committed to reviewing citizen complaints without bias or preconception.
  • Curiosity: We are committed to looking carefully at citizen complaints and the larger context in which they arise. We are also committed to a culture of perpetual learning and discovery.
  • Respect: We are committed to treating everyone with respect and compassion, to listening so we can understand, and to maintaining a work environment that fosters acceptance, compassion, and understanding.
  • Integrity: We are committed to performing our work with honesty, fairness, and authenticity in accordance with professional and statutory ethical guidelines.
  • Public Service: We are committed to helping people resolve their complaints individually, and to improving the effectiveness and equity of government systems.

What kinds of complaints does the Ombudsman investigate?

The Alaska State Ombudsman investigates complaints about administrative actions taken by state agencies. State agencies include departments as well as boards and commissions, public corporations, and the administrative operations of the courts. Examples of jurisdictional complaints include (but aren’t limited to) problems with:

  • State retirement benefits or the state health plan
  • Getting or renewing a professional license
  • Applying for or receiving Food Stamps or Medicaid or other public assistance
  • Accessing necessary health care while in a state prison
  • Fisheries and game management
  • Child support enforcement
  • Child protection and foster care
  • The Open Meetings Act and access to public processes
  • Housing through Alaska Housing Finance Corporation
  • Permanent Fund Dividends
  • Child care licensing and assistance.

The Alaska State Ombudsman does not investigate complaints about court cases or decisions, elected officials, city or borough governments, school districts, non-profits, private businesses, or private citizens.

The Alaska State Ombudsman does not investigate complaints about nursing homes or assisted living facilities. The Long-Term Care Ombudsman looks into those kinds of complaints and advocates on behalf of residents. For more information about the Long-Term Care Ombudsman, go to www.akoltco.org

Are complaints to the Ombudsman confidential?

Yes. Under state law AS 24.55.160, the Ombudsman must “maintain confidentiality with respect to all matters and the identities of the complainants or witnesses,” unless disclosure is necessary “to allow the ombudsman to carry out duties and to support recommendations.”  The Ombudsman may not disclose a confidential record obtained from an agency.

Can I make an anonymous complaint?

When you make a complaint to the Ombudsman you must provide your name and contact information. However, the Ombudsman will keep your name confidential if that is what you want. If it is not possible to investigate the complaint AND keep your name confidential, the Ombudsman may have to decline the investigation. You’ll be able to discuss this decision with the Ombudsman and decide whether you want your complaint investigated or not.

If someone does not want their name shared, and they have provided specific and credible information supporting the complaint, the Ombudsman may refer an anonymous complaint to the chief executive officer of the affected agency, the district attorney, or law enforcement. 

Can someone make a complaint for someone else?

Only if they have a power of attorney or other authority to act on that person’s behalf. The Alaska State Ombudsman will not investigate third party complaints unless there is a reasonable basis to believe that the person affected by the state agency’s actions is incapable of personally filing the complaint, and that the person making the complaint has a legitimate interest in acting on that person's behalf. 

Can a state employee make a complaint?

Yes. The Alaska State Ombudsman serves all Alaskans. Complaints to the Ombudsman are confidential, so a state employee can make a complaint about a state agency without the agency having to know about it.

The Ombudsman does not investigate complaints that fall within the scope of collective bargaining agreements between the State of Alaska and the various unions. If a person isn’t sure their complaint falls within their current collective bargaining agreement, you can review the union contracts here.

When should someone complain to the Ombudsman?

Everyone should first try and resolve their problem directly with the state agency involved. If, after trying, you feel your complaint has not been addressed, that is the time to contact the Ombudsman for assistance.

How do I make a complaint?

The quickest and easiest way to make a complaint to the Alaska State Ombudsman is through our online portal.

You can also make a complaint over the phone by calling our Intake Staff at 907-269-5290.

Or, you can download a complaint form and mail it to:

The Alaska State Ombudsman
1500 West Benson Boulevard
Anchorage, Alaska 99503.

People in prison, or in the custody of the Department of Corrections, must mail in their complaints in writing using our complaint form

You may also visit the Alaska State Ombudsman office in Juneau or Anchorage to discuss your complaint in person.

Anchorage – 1500 West Benson Boulevard, Second Floor
Juneau – 130 Seward Street, Suite 501

What happens after a complaint is made?

New complaints are reviewed by our Intake Staff every Wednesday when all the investigative staff determine whether and how each complaint should be investigated. When a complaint is chosen for further review, the investigator will contact the person to confirm and clarify the information, talk about the investigatory process, and ask what is the desired result.

The ombudsman has 30 days to decide whether to accept or decline a complaint for investigation. However, our goal is to respond to complaints within 7-10 days. Complaints that involve health, safety, or emergency situations may receive a response more quickly.

If the Ombudsman declines a complaint, that decision will be provided by mail, email, or phone. When this is the case, we usually provide information on other resources that might be of assistance.

What can the Ombudsman do about my complaint?

The Alaska State Ombudsman is not an advocate. We are neutral, objective investigators. Once we determine the facts of a situation, we attempt to find an informal solution.

If we find that a complaint about a state agency is justified, we recommend ways to resolve it. Those recommendations may be formal or informal. It’s important to know it is not uncommon for an investigation to find that a state agency did not do anything unlawful, unreasonable, unfair, or otherwise in error.

How does an investigation work?

Ombudsman investigators collect and review information and evidence from the complainant, witnesses, state agency staff, experts, and other sources. They also review all relevant laws, regulations, policies, and procedures. Sometimes the ombudsman will conduct formal, recorded depositions of people involved in the complaint. If necessary, the Ombudsman can also subpoena documents and testimony.

Once all the information and evidence is collected and analyzed, the Ombudsman investigators determine what happened based on the “preponderance of the evidence” (meaning it’s more likely than not something happened or is true). If the allegations in the complaint are found to be justified, the Ombudsman will make recommendations to the state agency for how the complaint can be resolved.

What happens at the end of an investigation?

During the course of the investigation, a preliminary report is provided to the state agency – this report is confidential and is only provided to the state agency. After the agency has an opportunity to respond, the Ombudsman considers the state agency’s response, and then issues a final report. 

The final report is also confidential and only provided to the state agency. An executive summary and/or public report is provided to the person who made the complaint. The Ombudsman may also publish a public report if it is determined that the issue is of public interest or affects many other people.

Can the Ombudsman force a state agency to do something?

No. The Ombudsman has no direct enforcement power. However, the Ombudsman can work to persuade an agency, or the governor or Legislature, to adopt the recommendations. The more relevant and practical the recommendations made by the Ombudsman, the more likely the state agency is to adopt them.

Does it cost anything to complain to the Ombudsman?

No. There is no cost involved.

Can the Ombudsman represent me in court or at an administrative hearing?

No. The Ombudsman is not an advocate, and does not provide legal advice or legal services.

What if I have a problem that the Ombudsman doesn’t handle – who do I contact?

A list of legal services providers, as well as community organizations that might be able to help you, can be found here.

What if I have a concern about how the Ombudsman handled my complaint?

You can make an informal or formal grievance to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman grievance procedure and form are available here.