Cass Sunstein, former Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, in his new book, Simpler, shares the three most important things he learned during his time in the White House.
“People stop making some important mistakes when they speak in a foreign language.” Citing the example of cost-benefit analysis as a foreign language, he described it as a great “engine of simplification” by displacing intuitions and counteracting hysteria-forcing people unfamiliar with the language to slow down and act deliberately. This makes me wonder about the “foreign language(s)” we are using in our work and, therefore, the impact on those on the receiving end.
The second lesson deals with unnecessary complexity in rule making. While the rules make sense to the rule writers, they are often “complex, frustrating, and incomprehensible to the public.” Sunstein wrote the guidance on implementing the Plain Writing Act of 2010 calling for writing which is “clear, concise, well-organized, and consistent with other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience. Such writing avoids jargon, redundancy, ambiguity, and obscurity.” Makes me wonder how we’re doing on all of our “rule making” for other agencies and the general public.
“News Note, 3/16/1911.” Berryman Political Cartoon Collection. National Archives Identifier 6010881
“Those who have the privilege of serving the American people should listen closely to those whom they are privileged to serve.” Sunstein’s message is one we have taken to heart in our Citizen Archivist activities and the creation of Federal Register 2.0 to tap the dispersed information of the public. Makes me wonder what else we should be doing to learn from those we serve.