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Agencies may have to abandon bureaucratese

Government officials want to open the channels of communication between their agencies and the public, and they’re dreaming up and then building new means of delivering their messages. One thing may stand in the way though: clear communication.

While they want participation and collaboration between agencies and citizens everywhere, the two don’t talk the same way.

The Senate is trying to change that statutorily—er, I mean, the Senate is trying to change the law. Attached to the Small Business Lending Fund Act (H.R. 5297) is the Plain Writing Act.

The House passed the Plain Writing Act (H.R. 946) in March, but the Senate hasn’t done anything with it yet. The House also passed its version of the small business jobs bill in mid-June; the Senate is debating it now.

According to the Plain Writing Act, “The purpose of this act is to improve the effectiveness and accountability of federal agencies to the public by promoting clear government communication that the public can understand and use.”

In other words, it would make agencies talk more like the public talks.

In my opinion, a good start would be to get rid of the words "implement," "promulgate," and "utilize." Outside of Washington, I’ve not heard anyone talk about promulgating something. The use of the word implement is a rarity and utilize would make people’s eyes glaze over. And you’d probably have to utilize something to wake them up—maybe ruby slippers and three clicks of the heels.

Check out this story from Federal Computer Week about writing plainly.

Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Jul 19, 2010 at 12:54 PM


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