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
* National Archives and Records Administration Holds First "Conversations with America" Forum
* NPR Posts Reinvention Resources on Web Site

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 visibility.

"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 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 For more information, contact Annetta Cheek at

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

NPR Posts Reinvention Resources on Web Site

Check out "90 Resources in 90 Minutes" at

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