Not a Word to Spare

Make it short and sweet. That appears to be the essence of President Clinton's directive to employees of the federal government.

Exhibit A: An Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule pared from 75 words to 14. Its thrust? Don't let signs or decorations hide exit doors. (See, even shorter can be shortened.)

Active verbs, more use of the pronoun "you," shorter sentences, common words - these are the marching orders for bureaucrats telling the public how to apply for grants, get services, or comply with rules. How far could this go? Are simplified tax forms in our future? Shorter State of the Union messages?

By Oct. 1, when the directive takes effect, clouds of excess verbiage should be wafting away from Washington.

"Should" is used advisedly. Dis-obfuscation campaigns have been launched before. Back in the '80s, then Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldridge ordered his 32,000 employees to use plain English. More recently, the Securities and Exchange Commission required that prospectuses for mutual funds be written simply and clearly.

These things take time and effort - much self-editing and re-editing. (We speak from long, continuing experience.)

Kudos to the president for setting the goal. Now for a simply written guide to show bureaucrats the way. Strunk and White, anyone?

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