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Its time to call the jargon busters

Legislation -- Bill would push state agencies to nix the gibberish

Anyone in Oregon who has communicated with a government agency knows the experience can be more than a little frustrating.

That frustration grows if you're going through the process of applying for veterans or senior benefits, or trying to start a small business.

The bureaucratic jargon, legalese and confusing instructions are enough to frustrate even the most patient person.

But where was it written that our government has to be so inefficient and confusing? Why can't it strive to operate more smoothly and waste less taxpayer money?

According to the Small Business Administration, an average small business spends $7,000 per employee just to comply with government regulations. Why can't it be easier for small businesses to start-up?

Working as a consultant for much of my life, I've spent my career solving problems for some of Oregon's largest businesses. During that time, I strived to help companies run efficiently and cut waste without sacrificing quality.

I bring that same outlook to Salem, and this session I'm serving as chair of the House Committee on Government Accountability and Information Technology.

In that role, I've made it one of my top priorities to save taxpayer money, while at the same time making government more accessible to the average Oregonian.

My committee has been working for months to reduce government waste and streamline our agencies.

In addition, this session I've offered up a bill called 'Plain Talk Oregon,' which will re-think the way our state government does business with its citizens and small businesses.

This bill will completely redefine the way the State of Oregon communicates with the public.

The bill calls on all executive branch agencies to begin writing forms, manuals, letters, e-mails and other communications in the plain-language standard of communication.

Plain language means short, easy-to-understand sentences, everyday language and documents designed to be easily read and understood. More simply, it means an end to the confusing bureaucratic and legal jargon that plagues our government documents and forms.

Several states and counties across the nation have realized the benefits of plain language. In Washington, re-writing one letter brought in $2 million in additional revenue in less than four years.

Implementing the plan in Washington cost next-to-nothing, and required no special funding from the legislature. Confusion has been reduced, compliance has increased, and taxpayers are seeing less of their money going to waste.

In Los Angeles County, California, using plain language in one complicated phone message resulted in a savings of more than $50,000 per year.

On the federal level, several agencies have realized the common sense of plain talk and have put it to work.

In one case, re-writing a confusing government form cut errors in half.

In another, a Veterans Administration letter was re-written and phone calls asking for help or explanation dropped from more than 1,100 a month to less than 200.

These examples exist all around the United States and there's no reason Oregon can't follow suit by making our government more responsive.

There's no reason our state government can't speak simply and clearly. And there's no reason why we shouldn't save taxpayer money by reducing confusion, complaints, and even costly litigation.

I've always believed in working to make the government more efficient and effective and this bill has the potential to decrease confusion and increase efficiency. The bottom line is that it will save Oregon taxpayers money.

And that's something we can all understand.

State Rep. Chuck Riley (D-Hillsboro) represents House District 29, which includes Cornelius and Forest Grove. Riley will meet constituents for coffee from 9-10:30 a.m., Saturday, April 14 at the Starbucks in Cornelius, 1882 Baseline St.