National Partnership for Reinventing Government
(formerly National Performance Review)
June 9, 1998, Vol. 4, No. 8
An Information Sheet for Federal Communicators, Managers, Workers and
Their Partners-Pass It On
No More Gobbledygook: Government Will Use Plain Language
President Clinton signed a memorandum on June 1 with this message:
The Federal Government's writing must be in plain language."
Vice President Gore, a longtime champion of government rules and
letters that people can understand, announced this presidential
directive in a speech before a roomful of small business people in the
nation's capital. You no doubt have heard all this by this time
because it's been all over the news-radio, television, newspapers, the
Internet, even Jay Leno.
The Vice President read examples of bureaucratese and their plain
language translations. Here's one example from the Occupational Safety
and Health Administration:
BEFORE: Means of Egress
Ways of exit access and the doors to exits to which they lead shall be
so designed and arranged as to be clearly recognizable as such.
Hangings or draperies shall not be placed over exit doors or otherwise
so located as to conceal or obscure any exit. Mirrors shall not be
placed on exit doors. Mirrors shall not be placed in or adjacent to
any exit in such a manner as to confuse the direction of exit.
AFTER: Exit Routes
An exit door must be free of signs or decorations that obscure its
"That's it," the Vice President said, "from 77 words to 14. But we
still might be able to make it a bit better. The words 'obscure its
visibility' are a little like the old gobbledygook. How about: "Don't
put up anything that makes it harder to see the exit door."
A "No More Gobbledygook" Award
The Vice President announced that he would give an award every month
to the federal employee who comes up with the best suggestion for
getting rid of government gobbledygook.
Government Has Plain Language Champions
The Social Security Administration has pioneered plain language in its
notices (letters) to taxpayers and beneficiaries since the early
1980s. Other plain language champions include the Small Business
Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration, the Securities and
Exchange Commission, and the Department of the Interior. IRS and the
Federal Emergency Management Administration have made a commitment to
use plain language.
The Plain Language Action Network (PLAN), organized by the National
Partnership for Reinventing Government and the Office of Management
and Budget, is a government-wide group working to improve
communications between the federal government and its customers. Its
work is guided by PEN (Plain English Network), a small interagency
steering committee organized in 1996.
For More Information
PLAN opened a new web site at www.plainlanguage.gov to coincide with the Vice President's announcement. On this site you'll find the President's directive and a tutorial on plain language.
In the first week, the site got 28,000 hits. Here's what one person
wrote about the site: "These are excellent guidelines. I've been a
technical writer/manager for the past 8 years and am extremely
impressed with the quality of the information on the web site. (and
sorry to say, shocked that it came from the government!)"
PLAN will post the No More Gobbledygook Award criteria by June 12. The
Vice President's speech is at
www.npr.gov/library/speeches/gorepln.html. For more
information, contact Annetta Cheek at email@example.com.
National Archives and Records Administration
Holds First "Conversations with America" Forum
The National Archives and Records Administration held a public forum
on June 3 in Boston, with about 60 customers present. Many represented
genealogical societies from over New England who were concerned with
the continued accessibility of records.
Northeast Regional Administrator Diane LeBlanc hosted the event
and was joined by NARA staff from across the country, including Fort
Worth Regional Administrator Kent Carter and other members of NARA's
Space Planning Team.
It was NARA's first major "Conversations with America" event. On
March 3, President Clinton directed federal agencies to hold two-way
conversations with their customers to determine the kind and quality
of services they want and their level of satisfaction with existing
services. The meeting was a "real, no holds barred, open forum,"
reported NPR alumna Kim Ainsworth. "It worked well. Customers were
able to air their concerns and get the answers to some of their most
important questions." Questions that staff could not answer will be
researched and answered later. "People also liked having comment
cards," she said. "The cards worked well because not everyone felt
comfortable speaking publicly."
John Carlin, Archivist of the United States, or his staff will
conduct similar "Conversations with America" sessions over the country
all summer. The times and places are at
NARA is the federal government's records keeper. It maintains
more than 20 million cubic feet of records in two large archives in
the Washington area, 10 presidential libraries, and 18 regional
facilities. For more information on NARA's Conversations, contact Lori
Lisowski at (301) 713-7360, ext. 257, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
NPR Posts Reinvention Resources on Web Site
Check out "90 Resources in 90 Minutes" at www.npr.gov/library/misc/90minutes/index.html.
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