Tom Purcell: Government grounds for gobbledygook
Despite a 2010 law that requires federal agencies to describe rules and regulations in plain language, most government writing is STILL unintelligible. I met with my federal-bureaucrat mole, Deep Gibberish — and his interpreter — for answers.
“When President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 into law,” I said to Deep Gibberish, “all federal agencies were required to use ‘clear government communication that the public can understand and use.’ Why do so few do so?”
“Your query poses prospective considerations,” said the bureaucrat, “that rise beyond the level of considerations that the voter-taxpayer base may be prepared to ascertain.”
“Huh?” I said to his interpreter.
“He said you wouldn’t believe him if he told you,” the interpreter said.
“Look, content-analysis company Visible Thread found in 2017 that most federal-government websites were in defiance of the Plain Writing Act — still using language that is abstract and unclear,” I said.
“Though we comprehend and find favor with those considerations,” Deep Gibberish said, “we nonetheless understand that there are arguments in favor of providing the voter-taxpayer base with the previous methods.”
“Huh?” I said.
“He said bureaucrats have good reason to use government gobbledygook,” the interpreter said.
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “Few of our legislators even take time to read the giant bills they pass. Once the bills become law, bureaucrats create rules and regulations using language nobody can comprehend. How can this in any way be good?”
“According to baseline assessments,” Deep Gibberish replied, “current employment rates would be adversely affected by changes resulting from actions directed by, but not intended to result in, jargon easily understood by citizens.”
“Huh?” I said.
“He said millions of lawyers, accountants and others make good livings helping their clients comprehend confusing federal language,” the interpreter said. “He also said that if average citizens really knew what government is doing, they’d be livid.”
“You’re going to have to explain,” I told Deep Gibberish.
“Well,” he said, “lawmakers and their aides are often persuaded, at the behest of revenue-generating entities, to apply lawyerly terminology to obfuscate clarity in a manner that benefits their outcome.”
“He said bills are written in confusing language, in part, to conceal the special favors politicians slip in for their buddies,” the interpreter said.
“That’s why plain language is so important!” I said.
“The public, however, notwithstanding the active voter-taxpayer base, may or may not acquiesce,” Deep Gibberish said.
“He said ‘blah, blah, blah,’ ” said the interpreter.
“Look,” I said. “The Regulatory Review reports that the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), an independent federal agency tasked with improving federal agencies, recently approved a ‘Plain Language in Regulatory Drafting’ recommendation. ACUS understands that plain language is essential to increasing public participation in policymaking.”
“The public may or may not entertain its desired resolve,” Deep Gibberish said.
“He said ‘blah, blah, blah,’ ” the interpreter said.
“The need for clear language is perfectly clear to me,” I said. “In a well-functioning republic, citizens must know what their government is up to. Rules, regulations, requirements, forms, letters, etc., must be understandable! It’s the law! Now what do you say to that?”
“Are you nuts, pal?” Deep Gibberish replied. “Without government gobbledygook, how are my interpreter and I going to keep earning six-figure government salaries?”
Freelance writer Tom Purcell of Library is author of “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood!” Visit him on the web at TomPurcell.com.