Topics on This Page: Introduction | Mediation Process | HHS Mediator Standards | How to Request Mediation | When to Request Mediation | Confidentiality in Mediation | Mediation in Board Cases Mediation in HHS Workplace | Other ADR Services | About the ADR Team
Important Note Due to COVID-19: The ADR Division is still offering a full range of mediation, facilitation, and other ADR services. ADR services are being provided via video or audio conferencing via a number of web-based platforms. Please contact the ADR Division for more information.
Mediation is a form of assisted negotiation. In mediation, a trained, neutral third party helps two or more parties negotiate to resolve their dispute. Mediation typically employs a problem-solving approach to resolving conflict rather than the traditional, adversarial approach. Mediators are trained in communication and problem solving skills, which they use to help parties make the best possible decisions about whether and how to resolve their dispute.
Mediation is a voluntary, informal process. Rules of evidence do not apply. Testimony is not taken. Mediation allows parties to control the dispute resolution process, rather than having a judge or other official control it for them. Mediation is typically faster and more economical than adjudication, and even if mediation does not resolve the dispute, it almost always helps parties clarify and narrow the issues so that adjudication can proceed more rapidly.
Mediators are not decision-makers or judges and have no personal interest in the substantive outcome of a case. Mediators use their expertise in communication and negotiation to help the parties make effective, informed decisions for themselves.
Conceptually, mediation includes three general phases:
Introduction - During this part of the process, the mediator creates a safe environment in which the parties can discuss difficult topics. Depending on the parties’ experience with mediation, the mediator may provide a process overview: the role of the mediator, what will happen in various mediation sessions, and confidentiality. During this phase, parties may agree to ground rules for the conduct of the mediation (e.g., ensuring that only one person speaks at a time) and a general timetable for the process. This phase includes a joint session among parties, during which each party has an opportunity to state their views and desired outcomes.
Problem Solving - During this stage, the mediator helps the parties principally focus on issues, interests, options for resolution and criteria for evaluating the options. Parties may meet separately with the mediator to share confidences and fully consider options in private.
Closure - During this phase, parties decide whether and on what terms to resolve the dispute. The mediator may help them draft a document that reflects any commitments they wish to make. If needed, the agreement may be passed on to others for approval, and the mediator and the parties will discuss the process for finalizing the agreement. If parties do not reach agreement, the mediator makes sure they understand why and what next steps are available to them.
HHS Mediator Standards
HHS Mediators agree to abide by the Standards of Practice for HHS Mediators and the confidentiality provisions of the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996.
How to Request Mediation
E-mail your request to ADR@hhs.gov or call (202) 565-0221. If you have any questions about whether you might benefit from mediation, a staff member can provide a confidential discussion.
Since mediation sessions will not be scheduled until both parties consent, your mediation may move faster if the parties discuss and agree to mediation prior to contacting the ADR Division. ADR team members will contact opposing parties on your behalf, however, upon your request.
When to Request Mediation
How do parties know if mediation is the right approach for resolving their dispute? Mediation is an appropriate option for any dispute where a negotiated solution is an acceptable outcome to the parties. This includes conflicts within agencies, as well as with regulated parties, states, contractors, and other private persons. Mediation is viable in those situations where:
- There is no need to establish precedent and there is no single solution that is required
- Tensions, emotions, or transaction costs are running high
- Communication between the parties has broken down
- Time is a factor
- Failure to agree does not clearly benefit one or more parties
- Parties have an interest in maintaining confidentiality
- The parties want or need to maintain some ongoing relationship
Advantages of Using a Mediator: What can parties hope to gain by working with a mediator? What value is added by a third party neutral? There are several advantages for using a mediator:
Increases Information Flow:
Parties to a dispute are often reluctant to share information. This dynamic can lead to decisions being made without considering critical factors. A mediator helps parties see a more complete picture of relevant information and thus helps them make better decisions.
Builds Shared Understanding:
A mediator helps each party understand and consider the other's perspective. Parties in conflict tend to discount or miss things said by the other. A mediator can help ensure that important information is not overlooked. Parties are more likely to create a shared understanding of their issues, concerns, and interests with the assistance of a mediator.
Preserves the Relationship Between Parties:
Mediators are trained in communication and problem solving skills which can help parties “separate the people from the problem.” This can assist parties in discussing difficult topics without sacrificing critical relationships.
Confidentiality in Mediation
Confidentiality contributes to the success and integrity of the mediation process. The confidentiality assurances in the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996 at Section 574 apply in DAB mediation. The ADR Act specifically protects communications between a mediator and party in private caucus (outside the presence of the other party) and communications between a mediator and parties in joint session (more than one party present). However, communications which parties make to all other parties (e.g., in joint session with all parties present) are not protected under the ADR Act. Further, agreements to mediate and settlement agreements are not confidential under the ADR Act. See Document: Sample Agreement to Mediate.
Parties may agree to more confidentiality than is provided under the ADR Act (e.g., they can agree to make communications between parties in joint session confidential), and any such terms should be included in the written agreement to mediate. If the parties agree to more confidentiality, the additional confidentiality will not affect a third party's right to access documents (e.g., a third party's right under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain copies of documents not protected by the ADR Act, such as documents one party makes available to all other parties to the mediation). See Document: Sample Agreement to Mediate~Additional Confidentiality.
In unusual circumstances, a judge can order disclosure of information to prevent a manifest injustice, help establish a violation of law, or prevent harm to public health or safety. Further, information concerning fraud and criminal activity or threats of imminent harm may not be considered confidential.
Mediation in Board Cases
Appellate Cases - Mediation is available in all Board cases. Since mediation is voluntary, however, both parties must agree before a mediation session will be scheduled.
Mediation in Board cases typically follows the standard caucus model used in most court affiliated ADR programs. The caucus model involves the mediator meeting initially with the parties together and then convening a series of private meetings with each party separately. Mediation sessions typically last three or four hours and, often, more than one session is needed to complete a case. Most cases are concluded after only a few sessions, but mediations may be extended as needed if all parties agree.
Mediations are typically conducted at a location convenient to all parties. While our preference is to conduct at least the initial session in person, we have found telephone and video conferencing to be reasonable alternatives, depending on the case (e.g., where the amount in dispute would not justify the expense of travel). Mediation sessions generally can be held as quickly as the parties like, often in a matter of days.
The mediators are ADR team members or staff attorneys and Judges from one of the Board's other three divisions. All our mediators have considerable training and experience in mediation and other ADR applications. There is no charge for the Board's mediation services. Parties may request the services of private neutrals but would be responsible for the private fee.
Board mediators abide by the Standard of Ethics for HHS Mediators. Mediators treat all mediation communications as confidential; no information from mediation will become part of the record in the case, unless the parties make a joint request that it be included. Any concerns about a mediator's conduct should be addressed to the Chief of the ADR Division.
Civil Remedies Cases - Mediation and ombudsman services are available in certain types of Civil Remedies Division (CRD) cases. Mediation is practiced in the same manner as outlined above.
Ombudsman is a distinct form of ADR in which a neutral third party who is knowledgeable in the law provides assistance with understanding the appeals process and in accessing online legal precedent. Ombudsman cases typically involve relatively few issues, little judicial discretion, and well-developed case law. A discussion with an ombudsman is likely to give the petitioner a more informed perspective on whether and how to proceed.
Parties involved in CRD cases who have requested a hearing will receive a letter from the CRD notifying the party of the availability of either mediation or ombudsman services. Communications between the party and the neutral are confidential.
Mediation in HHS Workplace
Mediation and facilitation are available for HHS workplace disputes, including grievances and discrimination complaints filed in the Department’s Equal Employment Opportunity programs. The ADR Division can also provide free non-HHS mediators for these cases, upon request, from the Federal Sharing Neutrals Program pool (see below).
Other ADR Services
The ADR team provides a variety of conflict resolution services:
- Training Design & Delivery –
- Mediation Skills
- Mediation Advocacy Skills
- Negotiated Rulemaking
- Interest-Based Negotiation
- Communication and Active Listening
Please see our Training Page for more details and to request training.
- Consultation/Interventions –
- Group Facilitation
- Negotiated Rulemaking
- ADR Program Design and Consultation
Please see our Other ADR Services Page for more details and to request other ADR services.
About the ADR Team
Our mediators and ADR specialists are attorneys and others with extensive mediation training. The ADR Division has been mediating disputes for over ten years. Our staff has taught mediation skills to executives, managers, lawyers, and staff throughout the U.S.
Neil Kaufman, Chief, Alternative Dispute Resolution Division
Neil H. Kaufman is Director of Mediation Services at the Departmental Appeals Board, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where he also assists the HHS Dispute Resolution Specialist in implementing alternative dispute resolution (ADR) throughout HHS. Mr. Kaufman has mediated a wide variety of cases for HHS and has extensive mediation background by virtue of his affiliation with the D.C. Mediation Services (1982-1986), the D.C. Superior Court Multi-Door Program (1986-1994), and the Northern Virginia Mediation Service (1993-present). He is one of the founders of the federal Sharing Neutrals Program. Mr. Kaufman is certified by the Supreme Court of Virginia to mediate disputes in the State court system and has trained mediators in both the federal and private sectors. He has been adjunct faculty at the Department of Justice, Legal Education Institute and a guest lecturer on ADR topics at several local law schools. He has authored a variety of training manuals and articles on such ADR topics as basic mediation skills, mediation advocacy skills, and confidentiality. He was a member of a team of nationally known trainers/mediators convened by authors Bush and Folger to develop and deliver training in the transformative mediation model described in their book The Promise of Mediation (Jossey- Bass, 1994, revised 2005). He is a graduate of Duke University and the Marshall-Wythe School of Law, College of William and Mary.
Jessica Pyryt, Attorney-Advisor, Alternative Dispute Resolution Division
Jessica Pyryt is an Attorney-Advisor at the Department of Health and Human Services, Departmental Appeals Board, Alternative Dispute Resolution Division, where she mediates all types of cases that come through the Division and assists the Director in implementing ADR throughout HHS. Ms. Pyryt mediates a wide variety of cases for HHS and has extensive experience in public-sector ADR. She began her career at the New Jersey Office of Dispute Settlement (2011-2017), where she administered the New Jersey Foreclosure Mediation Program in concert with several other state agencies. She also developed an extensive mediation practice specializing in public sector employment discrimination, environmental, and complex mediation, and developed and oversaw several other ADR programs, including the New Home Warranty Arbitration Program and the Underground Facilities Protection Act Arbitration Program. While at ODS, Ms. Pyryt facilitated and developed trainings in mediation, arbitration, conflict management and resolution, and other ADR-related topics, and developed ADR and mediation programs for a number of agencies and public state universities. After several years with ODS, Ms. Pyryt joined the New Jersey Judiciary in Atlantic County as part of a small pilot group of staff mediators within the Judiciary (2017-2019). While there, she focused on mediating mid-value Civil Division cases of all types, as well as utilizing ADR for discovery management and facilitation, as well as training law clerks in basic mediation skills. She joined the DAB/ADR Division in 2020. She is a graduate of the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and Rutgers Camden School of Law.