The federal government is getting serious about improving the way it communicates with the public. I know this because I recently attended a government symposium on the subject. I got there late because the press release had given the wrong room.
Basically, this movement consists of trying to persuade bureaucrats to jettison their jargon and double talk in favor of "Plain Language." In an effort to help out, I collected a bunch of recent government press releases and edited them into "Plain Language."
A statement by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson: "On World Diabetes Day, I am pleased to join my friends and colleagues at the Diabetes Federation of Ireland to raise awareness about preventing and controlling diabetes."
Plain Language version: "I'm in Ireland! I scored a trip to Ireland! Next week I will join my friends and colleagues in Biarritz to deplore endometriosis."
From a National Institutes of Health press release: "An NICHD program that teaches parents how to set limits on their teens' driving greatly reduces the teens' chances of risky driving behavior that could lead to accidents, according to a recent study by researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)."
Plain Language version: "A recent study by researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development really proves only that if your kid drives less, he'll get into fewer accidents. Still, it has the added benefit of allowing us to keep mentioning both the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and its acronym, NICHD."
A proclamation from President Bush: "The United States welcomes Bahrain's first parliamentary elections in nearly 30 years. Bahrain is a close friend, and an important example of a nation making a transition to democracy."
Plain Language version: "Where is Bahrain? Is that the one with the big turtles?"
From NASA press releases: "ASTRONAUTS CAPTURE HIGH-RESOLUTION GLACIER IMAGERY -- Russian researchers are studying the images taken by the crew of the International Space Station to better understand the catastrophic glacier collapse and landslide that occurred on the northern slope of Mount Kazbek in September."
"SOYBEANS BACK FROM SPACE STATION -- NASA is interested in the technologies that enable production of commercially important crops like soybeans in space."
Plain Language version: "NASA is interested in keeping its funding a quarter-century after its last really significant achievement."
A release from the General Accounting Office: "Recent events have shown that INS's alien address information could not be fully relied on to locate many aliens who were of interest to the United States."
Plain Language version: "We're clueless. For all we know, Osama is the guy up on your roof cleaning your gutters."
From a statement by President Bush: "North Korea's nuclear weapons program is a challenge to all responsible nations."
Plain Language version: "North Ko-rea's nuclear weapons program is in the hands of a man who looks like an Asian SpongeBob SquarePants."
From a Department of Defense press release: "The current estimate of program acquisition costs for programs covered by SARs for the prior reporting period was $1,118,688.7 million . . . The adjusted current estimate of program acquisition costs was $1,110,336.3 million."
Plain Language version: "The Department of Defense will go to any length to avoid using the b-word or the even more terrifying t-word when discussing its insane expenditures."
From a USDA press release: "Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced today $2.5 million in grants and cooperative agreements for research on obesity . . . 'We have a growing problem of obesity and lack of exercise in this nation,' Veneman said."
Plain Language version: "In a few years, American toilet seats will be four feet across."
We are all foot soldiers in the war for more effective communication between the public and its government; I hope my meager editing suggestions will help. I tried to contact the Plain Language Action and Information Network online to submit them, but the server was down.
Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.