|President Obama's hiring reforms draw applause at personnel agency
May 12, 2010
To get an idea of how bad the federal hiring process is, consider that Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry drew a rousing ovation Tuesday with these simple announcements:
"We are switching to résumés."
And: "The president is eliminating knowledge, skills and abilities essays as an initial recruitment requirement of the federal government."
This might seem like ho-hum stuff to the average person, but to those who packed the OPM auditorium for Berry's announcements, the changes represent a significant attempt to fix a system that takes too long and serves no one well.
President Obama wants the government to cut its hiring time -- from when a vacancy is announced until a person is hired -- to 80 days. Some agencies now take as long as 200 days. The president has also ordered federal agencies "to overhaul the way they recruit and hire," saying that "the complexity and inefficiency of today's federal hiring process deters many highly qualified individuals from seeking and obtaining jobs in the federal government."
In a presidential memorandum signed Tuesday, Obama instructed agency heads to take a series of actions by Nov. 1. They include getting rid of essay-style questions for people first submitting applications for federal jobs. Instead of writing essays -- in which candidates describe their knowledge, skills and abilities -- and filling out long, hard-to-understand forms, applicants will be allowed to submit cover letters and résumés or complete "simple, plain language applications."
It says something about the state of government communications when the president has to order officials to use plain language.
|Say yes to simplicity
May 06, 2010
You might have missed it amid all of the fireworks over health care
reform, but the U.S. House passed a bill a few weeks ago that could
eventually have just as much impact on our daily lives as the
controversial health legislation, and it'll cost a whole lot less.
|Making the case
August 06, 2009
When Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry announced in May that he would pursue pay reform during his tenure, he also outlined an important and somewhat unusual component of that effort. To make substantial changes to federal pay, and again attempt to close the pay gap between comparable jobs in the public and private sectors, Berry said he will have to convince the general public that it has a stake in such reforms.
He isn't alone in believing that management reformers must build
public awareness of and support for their initiatives if they're going
to achieve their goals in government performance. But the Obama
administration's management officials face a daunting challenge
educating the public about what government does, and making the case
that agencies need resources and attention to improve. ...
Stier said even when citizens do understand what federal agencies do, the language the government uses to describe management challenges, or even basic human resources issues, is often incomprehensible.
"The government even talks about vacancy announcements rather than job opportunities," Stier said. "There's a whole separate process that's grown up that's inside government-speak that does not translate to the public."
Those are formidable obstacles Berry -- and the administration as a whole -- will face if they are to educate the public about how government works and how it could work better. Berry has been appearing frequently at Washington events and at conferences across the country to make the case for a new dialogue about civil service to people who already are interested in management reform. And an October conference on pay and management reform sponsored by Harvard University and scheduled to be held in the Washington area, will attract listeners from outside the Beltway.
Stier agreed that it's important to rally the troops, the stakeholder groups that talk to the media and release reports, universities that communicate with students who are looking for jobs, and practitioners eager for a place to apply their skills. He also reiterated Berry's point that the dialogue about federal pay and employee productivity will have to extend far beyond the current boundaries of the debate to have any impact.
"All too often, we talk to ourselves and to a small population of people who are deeply invested in this," Stier said. "At the end of the day, what we have to demonstrate is that this matters to people who don't see this as their primary issue, but rather who have some other agenda -- be it the environment, or children, or defense, and unless you can connect this issue to that network of ideas, you don't succeed. It's performance for the sake of better outcomes in areas people care about."
|Braley Introduces 'Plain Language in Health Insurance Act' to Lower Costs, Cut Confusion
June 25, 2009
Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) today introduced the Plain Language in Health Insurance Act, a bill that would require the federal government and private health insurers to write all new healthcare documents in plain, easy-to-understand language.
|Federal Diary: Big Guns Take Aim at Federal Hiring Problem
June 16, 2009
For a long time there has been a lot of empty noise about the federal hiring process. Now the squeaky wheel is finally getting some high-level grease.
Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, has put agency and department heads on notice about the urgent need to fix federal hiring. He gave them six months to make progress in four areas that Orszag indicated are only the beginning. ...In his Thursday directive, Orszag made clear the administration's displeasure with the response that agencies have shown to previous hiring improvement efforts by the Office of Personnel Management to fix a lethargic government practice that has frustrated many applicants, some of whom have simply given up and gone to work elsewhere.
He cited the reaction to the "End-to-End Hiring Roadmap" OPM developed last year. "To date, there has been sporadic effort, at best, applied to making this initial first step in our overall hiring reform a reality," Orszag's memo said.
He and OPM Director John Berry "expect significant progress in four areas of hiring -- timeliness, plain language and streamlined announcements, communication with applicants, and involvement of hiring managers," Orszag wrote.
The memo then went beyond those generalities and got specific.
Orszag told agency leaders that he expects the following tasks to be completed by Dec. 15:
-- Mapping the agency's current hiring process to show what happens from the point when a manager identifies a need to hire someone until the selected person starts working.
-- Producing job announcements in easy-to-understand writing for the agency's top 10 positions, and limiting those announcements to five pages.
-- Notifying applicants about where they stand at four points: when the application is received;when the applicant's qualifications are assessed; when the applicant is referred, or not, to a selecting official; and when the applicant is selected or rejected.
-- Engaging hiring managers in all critical points of the process....
|Group strives to simplify documents
May 11, 2009
Utility bills, bank statements and government application forms are among the documents people receive every day but may have trouble understanding.
According to the City of Red Deer’s 2006 census, 7,302 of citizens have brain injuries or developmental disabilities, which the Central Alberta Self Advocates say can affect their ability to read and understand words.
Understanding complex words and paragraphs is also an issue for people who are still learning English.
The solution: Translation services offered by a group of developmentally disabled adults who have become experts at making sense of documents.
Group members have offered a translation service for five years or so, says member Bob Doherty, 54, of Lacombe. Until recently, their work was funded as a pilot project through Persons with Developmental Disabilities.
Now members have formed the not-for-profit Plain Language Society.
Its five teams of translators, including four pairs and one team of three, come from service agencies, including the Lacombe Action Group, Michener Services, Catholic Social Services and Central Alberta Residence Society.
|Obama takes aim at credit card companies
April 23, 2009
As part of a larger push on consumer finance issues and under mounting pressure from cash-strapped Americans, President Obama called in executives from 13 credit card companies to deliver a stern message: Crack down on the kinds of practices that the Federal Reserve has called "unfair" and "deceptive."
|Clear government writing has a price, U.S. budget analysts say
April 09, 2009
The price of clear writing in government documents: $3 million a year.
That’s what it would cost for the U.S. government to train employees in using plain language and prepare progress reports to Congress on the effort, according to a report issued by the Congressional Budget Office and posted on its Web site.
The nonpartisan agency estimated the cost to comply with the Plain Writing Act sponsored by Senator Daniel Akaka. The Hawaii Democrat’s legislation would require federal agencies to practice “writing that the intended audience can readily understand and use because that writing is clear, concise, well- organized, and follows other best practices of plain writing.”
The bill was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on a voice vote April 1, according to the panel’s Web site. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House by Representative Bruce Braley, an Iowa Democrat.
|Geithner calls for tougher standards on risk
March 26, 2009
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is calling for changes in how the government oversees risk-taking in financial markets, pushing for tougher rules on how big companies manage their finances as well as tighter controls on some hedge funds and money-market mutual funds.
February 23, 2009
Few Americans remember him today, but Maury Maverick was a World War
I hero and, for a time, a member of Congress. He later served as mayor
of San Antonio, a job he lost when his opponents hinted darkly that he
was a “communist fellow traveler” in a day when such hints had bite. He
was an ardent New Dealer who returned to Washington at FDR’s request
during World War II to run something called the United States Smaller
War Plants Corporation.
Maury didn’t fit in all that well
here, because he was at base a plain-spoken Texan. He came back to town
at a time when government was a growth industry peopled by bureaucrats,
technocrats and elitists who were proud of the fact few other than
their peers could understand a word of what they were saying. The flood
of legislation, regulations and unintelligible instructions that
continues to this day had just begun, and Maury found himself spending
more and more time trying to figure out what the bureaucrats in his own
little agency were actually saying.
By early 1944 Maury had
had enough. He wrote what The Washington Post at the time called “the
most refreshing and … effective memo ever written in the Federal
This memo coined the word “gobbledygook,” used to
describe the incomprehensible way government bureaucrats communicate
their ideas to each other and their superiors — and, unfortunately, to
the public, the ultimate target of their ideas. Maury instructed those
working for him to “Stay off the gobbledygook language. It only fouls
people up. For Lord’s sake, be short and say what you’re talking about
… Anyone using the words ‘activation’ or ‘implementation’ will be shot.”
Post reported that Maury had tried for several hours without success to
understand a report written in “bureaucratese” by one of his
assistants, threw the report down, grabbed his Dictaphone and dictated
the memo. He told the reporter that, on finishing it, “I was relieved.
I felt as though my soul had been cleansed. For years I have been
confused and frustrated by this strange language that’s used around