Of course, "plain English" can mean many things to many people. In The Mother Tongue, a book about the history of the language, Bill Bryson shows how English can be seriously abused and still get the idea across. He quotes a sign he found in an Eastern European hotel: "The flattening of underwear will be the pleasure of the chambermaid." Well, actually, it sounds like old style regulatory language to me.
Maybe under this Hammer Award we should put a sign saying "The flattening of the regulations will be the pleasure of the SBA."
What the Regulatory Reform Team has achieved represents the very best of Reinventing Government. You accomplished an amazing feat under incredibly difficult circumstances achieving a tremendous improvement in customer service and compliance. Or, to put it in plain English, "You done goodt!"
Crunching 548 pages of regulations down to 246 -- while crunching through two furloughs -- while crunching through 47 inches of snow and ice -- and doing it in ten months to hit the Code of Federal Regulations deadlines -- is simply amazing. But even more amazing is the quality of the product.
I am reminded of the old beer commercials where the argument was "Less filling!" versus "Tastes great!" These streamlined SBA regs are not only less filling, they taste great. They make sense, the first time you read them. Let me give you an example. I will read from the old rule and the new rule about firms that are ineligible for SBA assistance. First from the old rule:
"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 intended to be used primarily or exclusively in connection with the unlawful use of drugs or controlled substances." That's 72 words.
Now here's what the new rule says: "Businesses engaged in any illegal activity." Six words.
Gosh, less filling and reads great! But, as a fellow government worker, I can well imagine the painstaking work that goes into making plain, common sense English from 548 pages of that other stuff.
I know how all of you put in enormous hours, rearranging your vacations, working through weekends, and subbing for each other when illness intervened. But your efforts are going to pay for themselves over and over. For one thing, whole forests are going to breathe easier not just because you halved the number of pages, but also because the new user-friendly regs are accessible on the SBA homepage and on the U.S. Business Advisor. And when forests breathe easier, so do we.
Another point is that when people understand a regulation, they are more likely to follow it. The Vice President said that government should focus on compliance, not enforcement. Your plain English SBA regulations are much more likely to result in compliance rather than be ignored out of frustration and confusion.
The President and the Vice President also said that regulations should be eliminated when possible and re-written -- or "flattened" into plain English -- when that isn't possible. The SBA is a first and best example of an agency who prove that it can be done, and it should be done.
And most importantly, I am certain that many new small businesses will succeed where they might have failed because of your efforts. They won't need a bank of lawyers -- no offense to any lawyers present -- that they can't afford to tell them what all those words mean.
Small businesses are America's number one creator of new jobs. The more small businesses that succeed, the fewer unemployed. More people working means healthier families. More Americans with jobs also lessens the welfare burden, and helps stabilize Social Security. It also reduces the national debt by increasing the tax rolls. Less national debt lowers interest rates, permitting more people to buy their own homes. Your SBA regulatory rewrite may have saved civilization as we have known it!
But seriously, I know the Vice President shares my view that you are real patriots. All of us realize that Reinventing Government is an important part of the serious business of rebuilding the faith of the American people in their government.
It is with pleasure that I present this Hammer Award to your fearless leader, John Spotilla and to Dave Kohler on behalf of all the members of the SBA Regulatory Reform team.
Before we present the award and certificates, let me say on behalf of President Clinton and Vice President Gore the two best words of "plain English" I know -- thank you.