Remarks Prepared for
Senior Policy Advisor to the Vice President and
Director, National Partnership for Reinventing Government
(delivered by NPR staff member Carol Harvey)
"GOVERNMENT & MEDIA: PERCEPTION & REALITY"
The National Institutes of Health Natcher Conference Center
December 8, 2000
Thank you, Carol, for that introduction. And thank you all for coming today. This conference is without a doubt one of the most important events NPR has co-sponsored in its eight-year history. Virtually every government agency is represented here today.
The Federal Communicators Network and Senior Fellows Program have outdone themselves again this year - what a fantastic lineup of speakers from the government and media! But given the interagency planning team's advance work, we shouldn't be surprised - they literally started planning this year's conference the day after last year's was over...
I especially want to thank two other members of the NPR family for all their hard work -- Pat Wood, who started the Federal Communicators Network, and Donise Cheeks, who is the current coordinator.
I also want to thank our friends here at National Institutes of Health for providing the Natcher Center for the second year in a row.
I'm very proud of the FCN's brand-new, hot-off-the-press Communicators Guide - a product of government, academia, and private industry cooperation. You should all have a copy - use it early and often. It has a wealth of information and tips to make your jobs easier and more rewarding. Thanks to Marci Hilt for spearheading its publication.
That guide gives me the perfect segue into what today's conference is all about -- building more productive working relationships between government and the media. Not only to more effectively communicate government's accomplishments. But more importantly -- to help restore trust in our government.
This afternoon's keynote speaker, Bob Long, will talk more about those relationships in just a moment. But first, I wanted to just briefly mention a couple of NPR's signature initiatives that you will be hearing more about in the next two weeks.
As part of our effort to change the culture of government by focusing on our employees, customers, and bottom-line results (balanced measures), NPR partnered with the Office of Personnel Management again this year to get first-hand feedback from our greatest resource - federal employees.
This year's results give us a lot to be proud of -- government employees told us that things in their agencies are improving virtually across-the-board. We'll be officially unveiling the survey results a week from today - December 15 - so stay tuned for the details. But since you're all communicators, I did want to go ahead and share one piece of good news with you.
The most significant area of improvement came in plain language writing - an eight-percent increase over last year. For anyone who has ever tried to decipher a letter or regulation from a government agency, that is welcome news.
Even the Wall Street Journal has taken notice. In a December 1 front-page story on computer software that assesses "readability," it says the "plain language movement has gained strength in government...in recent years."
That increase means that agencies are translating regulations like this one at SBA -- which was used to describe a business ineligible for its programs. Listen carefully:
"Concerns that are engaged in an illegal activity or are engaged in the production, servicing, or distribution by sale or otherwise of products or services used in connection with an illegal activity. This includes, but is not limited to, the production, servicing, distribution of paraphernalia, products or services that are used or are intended to be used primarily or exclusively in connection with the unlawful use of drugs or controlled substances."
SBA's plain language version:
"Businesses engaged in any illegal activity."
But there's still lots of work to do, as this next example shows. The last I heard, this gem was still in effect. It's meant to answer the age-old question of what ingredients can be used to spice up fresh sausage:
"...sausage is usually seasoned with condimented proportions of condimental substances."
Help us keep the momentum going by getting rid of more "gobbledygook" like that.
In addition to the Employee Survey next Friday, we'll be unveiling the second-ever customer satisfaction survey of government customers the following Friday, December 22. It will show once again that our focus on customers is paying off by helping to change people's perception of their government. Be sure to watch for that.
For reinvention to become a permanent part of the landscape -- and for the public to reconnect with government - Americans have to experience their government differently and come away with a favorable impression. That's why your work is so important.
At NPR, one of the outcomes we've been working toward over the last year is to ensure that government reform and innovation in the broadest sense continues by enrolling a critical mass of people who are committed to always improving government.
On some level, we don't have a choice - just look at what's happening in information technology. Electronic government is transforming how citizens interact with government - the new FirstGov.gov website is a powerful example. It's designed around groups of customers rather than specific departments or agencies. Today, we're coming to realize that reform itself is largely synonymous with creating an electronic government designed to serve customers where and when they need it.
Communications is a key part of enrolling that critical mass of people and that's where we need your help. This is where we can all work together to tell the public what we're doing to make a real difference.
I urge you to keep up your commitment as we enter a new Presidential Administration. Continue your involvement with one another and with the FCN - you know how valuable this network is and you've already got lots of support.
The Department of the Treasury hosts the website - www.fcn.gov - and the General Services Administration supplies an e-mail listserv. Tim Clark and our friends at Government Executive magazine provide an online forum for sharing ideas and suggestions.
As this year winds down and we enter 2001, I hope you'll share the powerful messages you hear today. Encourage your agencies to provide even more resources so that FCN will continue and thrive. Pat and her crew will be holding a business meeting early in the new year to chart a new course, so stay tuned for that. If you haven't joined already, please do. Membership applications were included in your packet or you can join online as soon as you get back to your offices at www.fcn.gov.
Enroll not just as a member of FCN, but join us the larger cause of restoring trust. Take what you see and hear today and use it to make reinvention a permanent part of what you do every single day. Use it to tell your stories in a compelling way that makes people take notice and say to themselves "government really is changing - there is a difference."
Introduce Bob Long
I mentioned today's outstanding lineup of speakers and we have one of those as our keynote speaker this afternoon. He is DC native Bob Long, Vice President for News at Washington's NBC affiliate, channel 4. Before arriving at channel 4 nearly three years ago, he was Managing Editor at KNBC in Los Angeles - my hometown.
A Marine Corps veteran, Bob has also worked for Time magazine, the Associated Press, and KCBS in L.A. He's an independent producer who's written and directed documentaries on three different continents and produced TV movies for NBC.
Bob has enjoyed a life-long love affair with his craft - he started his career as a reporter while in the ninth grade at Takoma Park Junior High School. When Fidel Castro visited Washington in 1959, Bob took full advantage of a chance meeting with his bodyguard and ended up in the entourage for the entire four days he was in town. The budding reporter provided the older journalists exclusive tidbits in return for rides in the press convoy.
Clearly, a strong belief in the power of communications has been center stage in his career and we look forward to hearing from him this afternoon. Please join me in welcoming channel 4's Bob Long.
Media Seminar 2000