Vice President Al Gore
I'm delighted to be with you today to present the awards for
Small Business Person of the Year; and to make an announcement -- as
part of our Reinventing Government Initiative -- that will have a
positive impact on small business, and on all Americans who communicate
with their government.
National Small Business Week Awards/Plain Language Announcement
June 1, 1998
Small business has always been a special concern for me. When
I was a new member of the House of Representatives, I was author and
principal sponsor of the "Small Business Innovation Research"
initiative. This bill earmarked some research money exclusively for
small businesses, an idea that would find very few opponents today. But
it's surprising to remember how much opposition there was to that back
then -- especially among certain interest groups who were used to having
the whole pie to themselves. Today, I'm proud to say, the Small
Business Innovation Research program is the single largest seed fund for
venture capital in the federal government.
The fact is, the small business sector is the economic backbone
of America. That's why President Clinton and I have worked so hard to
create the climate you need to succeed. We have worked to balance the
budget, invest in our people, open foreign markets, and bring inflation
and interest rates to their lowest levels in a generation.
We also made the SBA Administrator a full member of the
President's cabinet. We restored deductions for home offices. We
reduced estate taxes on family-owned businesses. We reduced capital
gains for small businesses. We made it easier for you to offer your
employees pensions. And we are making employee health insurance 100%
deductible. At the same time, the SBA has demonstrated such success in
lending to small businesses -- that private sector small business
lending has risen exponentially in just the last few years.
The record could not be more clear: President Clinton and I
have responded aggressively to the needs of small business. And small
business has responded in turn. Every year since we came into office, a
record number of new small businesses have started up in America -- with
a record of 870,000 in 1997 alone. And that means millions of new jobs.
As you know, small businesses are responsible for 80 percent of the 15
million new jobs created since we've taken office.
President Clinton and I are proud of our contributions to
America's small business success. But we know the major reasons for our
success are the aggressive, inventive, risk-taking entrepreneurs -- the
people we're here to honor today with our 35th annual Small Business
Person of the Year Awards.
Let me begin with the award for second runner-up. Almost
thirty years ago, our award winner started a firm that anticipated the
great technological advances of the future. With the help of some SBA
loans along the way, he now designs and manufactures leading information
security software. He has annual sales of more than $22 million; he
employs 148 people, and by making electronic commerce safer, his
products boost the professional opportunities of millions more. Ladies
and Gentlemen, the second runner up for the National Small Business
Person of the year, the President and Chief Executive of Litronic
Industries in Irvine, California -- Mr. Kris Shah.
Our award for first runner-up goes to the Chairman of a company
founded more than 50 years ago. This company pioneered a method of
cultivation that helps farmers save soil and water. They had some lean
years as they waited for the world to wake up to the critical importance
of conservation. But today, they export to countries on three
continents. They employ ten percent of the entire workforce in the town
of Columbus, Nebraska -- and they are a reminder that economic
development and environmental stewardship absolutely, positively go hand
in hand. Ladies and Gentlemen, the first runner-up for the National
Small Business Person of the Year -- the Chairman of Fleischer
Manufacturing, Inc -- Mathew "Bud" Fleischer.
Our 1998 National Small Businessperson of the Year began his
company in a basement with a $20,000 personal bank loan. Using a
household clothes iron as a makeshift welding tool, he developed the
prototype of a lighter, cheaper, sturdier, and more environmentally
friendly package for compact discs. Two SBA loans helped the tiny
company begin production. Today, it has a facilities in Columbus,
Ohio; Sparks, Nevada; and Dublin, Ireland -- and its customers include
the biggest names in the business. For five years in a row, this
company has made Inc. Magazine's list of the 500 fastest-growing,
privately-held companies in the United States. Ladies and Gentlemen:
the 1998 National Small Business Person of the Year -- the President and
founder of Univenture Inc. -- Mr. Ross Youngs.
Let me once again congratulate our winners, and all
entrepreneurs who have a dream, take a risk, build a business, and offer
good jobs to people in their communities. We are in debt to you all.
Of course, the importance of these awards and this meeting is not merely
to honor the experts, but to listen to them. You have asked us to cut
red tape, reduce regulatory burdens, and simplify compliance. We have
listened. Under our Reinventing Government initiative, we are working
very hard to apply business principles to government. We have
eliminated more than 200 outdated programs, 16,000 pages of regulations,
and 640,000 pages of internal rules. And we're not done yet.
Today, I am proud to announce -- on behalf of the President -- a
new initiative that will go a long way to making government easier to
understand. The President is issuing today an Executive Memorandum to
the heads of all executive departments and agencies, directing them to
begin writing in plain language to the American people.
Here is a general guide to plain language: short is better than
long; active is better than passive; everyday terms are better than
technical terms, and -- you can use pronouns like "we" and "you;" in
fact, you should. As many of our departments and agencies are already
finding out: when you apply these rules, a 72-word regulation can
shrink to six words; the title of a regulation can change from "means of
egress" to "exit routes." And letters to customers can create
understanding, instead of confusion and frustration.
How many of you have ever gotten a letter like this? And I
"If we do not receive this information within 60 days from the
date of this letter, your claim will be denied. Evidence must be
received in the Department of Veterans Affairs within one year from the
date of this letter; otherwise, benefits, if entitlement is established,
may not be paid prior to the date of its receipt. SHOW VETERAN'S FULL
NAME AND VA FILE NUMBER ON ALL EVIDENCE SUBMITTED.
"Privacy Act Information: The information requested by this
letter is authorized by existing law (38 U.S.C. 210 (c)(1)) and is
considered necessary and relevant to determine entitlement to maximum
benefits applied for under the law. The information submitted may be
disclosed outside the Department of Veterans Affairs only as permitted
Well, the Veterans Benefit Administration is now working
directly with their customers to translate their letters into plain
language. One of those customers, veteran Jock Lindsey,
told them that some of their letters were, and I quote: "confusing and
insulting." Now that's plain language! VBA kept writing and
rewriting until Jock said: "This is how the government should write to
its customers. I feel I'm talking to a real person."
Because of VBA's leadership in reaching out to customers like
Jock -- letters that used to read like what you just heard, now read
"We have your claim for a pension. Our laws require us to ask
you for more information. The information you give us will help us
decide whether we can pay you a pension.
"What We Need Send us a medical report from a doctor or clinic
that you visited in the past six months. The report should show why you
can't work. Please take this letter and the enclosed Doctor's Guide to
"When We Need It We need your doctor's report by June 28, 1998.
We'll have to turn down your claim if we don't get your report by that
"Your Right to Privacy The information you give us is private.
We might have to give out this information in a few special cases. But
we will not give it out to the general public without your permission.
We've attached a form which explains your privacy rights.
If you have any questions, call us toll-free by dialing
1-800-827-1000. If you call, please have this letter with you."
Here's another example from the VBA:
Before "We are providing the following information about an
insurance payment you indicate you have not received or which is
otherwise missing. We have given the Treasury Department the necessary
information to trace the check in question."
After "We received the missing check form you sent us. We
asked the Treasury Department to find out what happened to your check."
There's more. Here's the first ever plain language regulation
in the federal government. It's from the Federal Communications
Commission Rules for the Citizens Band Radio Service:
Before: 95.421 Who may sign applications.
....applications, amendments thereto, and related statements of fact
required by the Commission shall be personally signed by the applicant,
if the applicant is an individual; by one of the partners, if the
applicant is a partnership; by an officer, if the applicant is a
corporation; or by a member, who is an officer, if the applicant is an
"Applications, amendments, and related statements of fact filed on
behalf of eligible government entities, such as states and territories
of the United States and political subdivisions thereof, the District of
Columbia, and units of local government, including incorporated
municipalities shall be signed by such duly elected or appointed
officials as may be competent to do so under the law of the applicable
After 95.425 How do I sign my CB license application?
(a) If you are an individual, you must sign your own application
(b) If the applicant is not an individual, the signature on an
application must be made as follows:
- For a partnership -- one of the partners must sign;
- For a Corporation -- one of the officers must sign;
- For an Association -- one of the members who is an officer must sign;
- For a Governmental Unit -- an appropriate elected or appointed official must sign."
Here's another example -- an old regulation from OSHA
The title of the old regulation is "Means of Egress." Egress,
by the way, means exit. The word is so little known, practical joker
P.T. Barnum used to put up a sign at the circus that said: "To the
Egress." People followed the sign, thinking they were about to see some
exotic animal, and suddenly found themselves in the street!!
So ... back to our regulation: "Means of Egress: Ways of exit
access and the doors to exit 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
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 the exit."
That was the old regulation. Here is a proposal for the new
regulation, whose new title is "Exit routes"
"An exit door must be free of signs or decorations that obscure
That's it. From 76 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."
I'm sure the folks at OSHA could go me one better on this. But
the point is, as soon as people begin to understand the principles of
plain language, everybody will be coming up with ideas about how to
write and speak more clearly.
As these examples tell you, we're already making great progress
in plain language all across government. During one of the recent
storms that ripped through California, an SBA loan applicant paid a
visit to the SBA disaster office. He had already filed his loan
application by mail, but he wanted to double-check with someone in
person. The form was so clear and so easy, he was sure he had missed a
page, or filled out the wrong form.
Our Securities and Exchange Commission is also out front on
plain language. SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt once said that even he can't
understand some of the industry language. And he's one of the top minds
in the industry! So he not only made plain language a requirement in
his agency. He encouraged the private sector to practice it as well.
We have here today with us Edward Crooke, President of Baltimore Gas and
Electric. BGE was one of the first companies to take on the challenge
of putting its prospectus into plain language. The customer response
was so encouraging, the company made plain language the theme of their
1997 Annual Report. Now, plain language is taking hold all across the
One brokerage firm even insists that their funds are selling better just
because their language is clearer. It doesn't matter whether you're in
the private sector or the public sector: customers appreciate plain
Today, with the President's Memorandum, plain language literally
becomes the rule, rather than the exception, in the federal government.
On behalf of the President, I'm calling on every agency to make plain
language a priority, and give the go-ahead to the plain language fans on
the front-lines who are eager to help us speak and write more clearly to
We are talking about more than a new approach to communications.
We're talking about enduring principles of self-government. Clarity
helps advance understanding. Understanding can help advance trust.
And trust -- especially trust in the promise of our self-government --
is essential if we are to come together to solve the problems we face as
So let me conclude by illustrating once again the point of our
plain language initiative. The point is NOT -- to enhance the level and
facility of reading comprehension attained by the government's
interlocutors according to objectively considered contemporary standards
and measures. That was the old point; the new point ... is to make sure
you can understand us.