REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE
SECOND PLAIN LANGUAGE AWARD
Wednesday, August 5, 1998
I am delighted to be here today to name the second recipient of our Plain
Language Awards -- our campaign to reinvent government by our putting our
communications into everyday language that people understand.
In June, I was proud to announce that President Clinton had directed all
federal agencies to begin writing in plain language to the American people.
We announced that we would present one award each month to government
employees who turn particularly bad examples of government language into
good language. We call them the "No Gobbledygook Awards." And that
explains why I am standing next to a poster with a giant turkey on it today.
When President Kennedy occupied the office just a few feet from here, he had
a standing rule: never use a word with three syllables if you can use a word
that has two. The principles of plain language are just as plain: short is
better than long; active is better than passive; everyday terms are better
than technical terms. And the sky will not fall if you use a pronoun.
As it stands today, many federal regulations don't even pass the Yogi Berra
test. As many of you know, Yogi Berra is famous for his tortured use of the
English language. When Yogi Berra said "when you come to a fork in the
road, you should take it" . . . when he advised a friend that "you should
always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't go to yours" .
. . when he instructed his Yankee teammates to "pair up in threes"-- he may
as well have been writing an old federal rule. We need to make sure that we
say what we mean, and mean what we say.
This isn't just about good writing -- it's about good government, and good
government service. If we are going to pass laws that help meet the
challenges this nation faces, people have to understand what those laws
mean. Plain speaking helps create understanding, and understanding helps
create trust. And trust -- especially trust in the promise of
self-government -- is essential to solving the common problems we face.
Last month, I was proud to present our first No Gobbledygook Award to Marthe
Kent and the people at OSHA, for rewriting some of the federal health
regulations that help save people's lives. Today, I am proud to present
the second "NO GOBBLEDYGOOK" plain language award to Chris Fontecchio and
Richard Hoops of the Bureau of Land Management. Let me ask them to come
forward . . . [Present award].
Let me tell you why we are honoring them here today. Chris Fontecchio has
been with the Bureau for two years and is an analyst with BLM's Regulatory
Affairs Group here in Washington. Rich Hoops is a Program Coordinator out
of the Nevada State Office in Reno. This is the first time they have met in
person. Over the past three months, they have worked together in cyberspace
to rewrite a rule that helps protect our public lands.
It is called BLM Regulation 3264.2-1. For those of you who can't
immediately bring the details of 3264.2-1 to mind, it is about protecting a
clean and renewable source of energy called geothermal energy.
Geothermal energy is formed by the heat of the earth's core and gathers as
pockets of steam below the earth's surface. In order to convert it to
electricity, we have to drill deeply into the earth's core. These
regulations help us strike the proper balance between how we drill for that
energy and how we protect the land -- especially in places like California,
Oregon, and Nevada, where this drilling is most prevalent. Unfortunately,
the old regulations didn't create anything but confusion.
Here's how this turkey reads: "A permit to construct and operate an
individual production well facility of not more than 10-megawatt net
capacity or heat energy equivalent, including all related on-lease
facilities, must be obtained from the authorized officer prior to commencing
surface distributing activities related to the construction and operation of
each such facility. The application for a permit in this respect shall be
filed in triplicate with the authorized officer and must state the location
of the principal facility and all related sites by distance in meters and
direction from the nearest section or tract lines, as shown on the official
plat of survey or protracted surveys, and the elevation of the ground level
at these sites. The application must be accompanied by a proposed plan of
utilization, as required by Section 3262.4-1 of this title."
I know what you're thinking: after reading this page-turner, I could hardly
wait to get to Section 3262.4-1. But I couldn't: because this goes on for
another 11 paragraphs and 34 lines.
The award-winning fix reads: "If you want to use federal land to produce
geothermal power, you have to get a site license and construction permit
before you even start preparing the site. Send a plan to BLM that shows
what you want to do and write up a proposed site license agreement that you
think is fair and reasonable. BLM will review it and decide whether or not
to give you a permit and license to proceed with work on the site. Until
and unless they do, don't even think about it." It's not just cleaner, it
also reduces the number of regulations by a third.
And there's an important point to this revision. People may not always
agree with every decision that is made by the federal government. But even
when the government is telling people "no," it should do so in a clear,
simple, unambiguous way, so that there is no confusion for anyone involved.
If you ask Chris Fontecchio about this change, he'll say, "Every time we
re-wrote this rule, I was amazed at how much plainer we could make it."
That is the same challenge we issue to all government employees today.
Yogi Berra also once said, "the future isn't what it used to be." If we can
continue to simplify the words we use to communicate in government, the
future won't be what it used to be -- it will be clearer, more concise, and
more informative than ever before. By examining our phrases, we will also
be forced to re-examine the original purpose of our rules and regulations.
By doing that, we will reinvent government itself. That was the promise
when President Clinton and I took office in 1993 -- and with your help, we
will get there. Thank you.