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  Daily Briefing  
January 8, 2001

Clinton administration awards last plain language prize

Jason Peckenpaugh

The National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR) presented its final “No Gobbledygook” award Friday to two Health Care Financing Administration employees who wrote a Medicare booklet in plain language.

NPR has awarded one plain language prize a month since the award was established in July 1998 for a total of 27 awards. Vice President Al Gore created the award to recognize federal employees who use plain language in innovative ways after President Clinton issued a June 1998 memorandum directing agencies to write all forms, documents and letters in plain language. NPR also commended six other agencies with “No Gobbledygook” awards at the Friday ceremony, its first since June.

“Federal employees have taken what seemed like an impossible task–getting people to communicate more clearly using a new plain language methodology–and recorded great achievements,” said NPR director Morley Winograd.

The “No Gobbledygook” award was the centerpiece of Gore’s plain language initiative, which took shape after Clinton issued his memorandum. Under the initiative, NPR and the Office of Management and Budget formed a group called the Plain Language Action Network (PLAN) that provided plain language training to agencies. Winograd said results of the 2000 governmentwide employee satisfaction survey show that the plain language initiative has been a success.

“The percentage of people who said they noticed the use of plain language writing in their workplace went up by 8 percent–the biggest increase in our survey,” Winograd said. “People are noticing that this initiative is taking hold.”

Winners of the plain language prize over the last seven months include:

  • July : The National Institutes of Health’s Dr. Alexa McCray who developed, a Web site that provides information on the status of clinical research studies.
  • August : Anne Cyr of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, who rewrote a lengthy poster to clearly inform employees of their right to know if their employer had committed OSHA violations.
  • September : Steven Griswold, David Neil, Lauren Mason and Andrea Macri of the Board of Immigration Appeals within the Department of Justice. Griswold and his partners rewrote a confusing manual describing conditions under which immigrants can be deported in a succinct question-and-answer format.
  • October : The Food and Drug Administration’s Naomi Kulakow and Christine Lewis who wrote a pamphlet describing how to read and use the nutrition facts printed on food labels. This marks FDA’s fourth “No Gobbledygook” prize – the most of any federal agency.
  • November : Laura Fulmer, Helen Kirkman, Vikki Vrooman, James Cesarano, John Moro and Melodee Mercer of the Internal Revenue Service. These foes of gobbledygook rewrote a form telling taxpayers how to obtain a refund check.
  • December : The Federal Aviation Administration’s Don Byrne and Linda Walker, who reformatted an airworthiness directive to clearly explain potential safety hazards on a type of airplane.
  • January 2001 : Susan Hollman and Valerie Perkins of the Health Care Financing Administration, who wrote a handbook entitled “Medicare and You” that clearly explained Medicare benefits.

Winograd also presented a rare “creativity award” to Karen Pelham O’Steen, Rose Mary Padberg, Jennifer Flach and Mary S. McCabe of the National Institutes of Health for their work in creating “The Eye Site,” a traveling exhibit on poor vision that appears in shopping centers.

While acknowledging that the Bush administration may not give out “No Gobbledygook” awards, Winograd was hopeful that the Bush administration would continue efforts to encourage the use of plain language.

“We hope [the Bush administration] continues to encourage the plain language movement,” Winograd said. “The Hammer awards and plain language prizes are associated with the Vice President, so they may not want to continue with that. But I hope they find another way.”