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Airmen recognized for dispute resolution

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Aug. 11, 2003) -- Air Force legal teams have earned a unique award for excellence in alternate-dispute resolution.

The American Bar Association presented the Lawyers as Problem Solvers Award to the Air Force at a conference in San Francisco on Aug. 8. In the past, the award was given only to individuals. This year the association chose an organization as well as an individual to receive the award.

"The American Bar Association dispute-resolution department is holding up the Department of the Air Force legal team as an exemplar for public- and private-sector legal departments to emulate," said Joseph McDade, Air Force deputy general council for dispute resolution.

ADR is a structured method of resolving conflicts, McDade said. Instead of going to court, parties involved in a conflict work with a trained arbitrator to reach a conclusion. With this program, that conclusion often comes more quickly and at less cost to the Air Force.

In one example, McDade said, the Air Force was in conflict with an aircraft-maintenance contractor. When it appeared that legal action was imminent and litigation could take as long as five years, the Air Force chose to implement an ADR solution instead of going to court.

"Air Force (officials) put a lot of effort into this (solution)," McDade said. "We got an ADR process in place and solved this in months rather than years. ... The most important (things) to the warfighter (are) that the aircraft were able to support the mission in Afghanistan and there were no operational issues in Operation Iraqi Freedom."

Besides the time saved in reaching a conclusion, the Air Force also saved money by avoiding nearly five years of costly litigation. The service also avoided nearly $94 million in liability to the contractor, McDade said.

ADR is used throughout both the public and private sector to solve disputes, but within the federal government, McDade said, the Air Force stands out.

"No other agencies use ADR with as much breadth as the Air Force," he said.

Both sides of the Air Force’s legal team -- the judge advocate general corps and the Air Force general council -- use ADR to handle contract disputes, labor-management issues and equal-employment-opportunity issues.

The Air Force has about 460 trained ADR mediators -- more than any other federal agency. The Air Force also has the only senior-executive positions dedicated to ADR within the Department of Defense.