At DBPR, Crist calls for fewer acronyms


Gov. Charlie Crist, right, visits with Holly Benson, Secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, to discuss the recent Executive Order regarding the plain language initiative, Monday, Jan. 8, 2007, in Tallahassee, Fla.

The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 11:50 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist visited the DBPR offices Monday and learned a little about OPS and IVR.

Facts

Cleaning up the communication
Below are excerpts of letters that would be sent out under the old rules of state bureaucratic writing followed by the same letter written in the new style:
"Complaints against unlicensed individuals and Community Association Managers are not confidential. However, if your complaint is not against an unlicensed individual or a community association manager, then this department is prohibited from discussing the details of your complaint with you any further. This is pursuant to Section 455.225(10), Florida Statutes, which states: 'The complaint and all information obtained pursuant to the investigation by the department are confidential and exempt from S. 119.07(1) until ten (10) days after probable cause has been found to exist by the Probable Cause Panel of the department, or until the regulated professional or subject of the investigation waives his or her privilege of confidentiality, whichever occurs first."
"Per Section 455.225(10), Florida Statutes, unless this complaint regards an unlicensed individual or a community association manager, it is confidential and exempt from disclosure at this time; however, once the investigation is complete, your case will go before the regulatory board. If the regulatory board determines that probable cause exists, meaning they believe a violation has occurred, then 10 days later your case will become public record. Therefore, unless and until probable cause is found, the department cannot disclose your complaint or the investigation."

Confused? Most people would be, and that's why Crist wants government to stop using jargon, acronyms and confusing language.

He started making his point during his visit to DBPR — the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. In a meeting with department Secretary Holly Benson and her top staff, he stressed the need to keep things clear.

"Government can be frustrating enough as it is, and so the opportunity to communicate in language that people can understand and appreciate I think is very important," Crist said. "When government officials speak to people in government jargon that is difficult to understand, it is not only not appreciated, I think it is unkind."

Crist's call for plain language is part of the executive order he signed last week to promote openness in government.

"More than any other agency, we think the plain language initiative begins here," Benson said, adding that the department mails out approximately 18,800 letters each day, or nearly 5.6 million a year, and communicates with 1 million residents annually. "We want to be the model for good and plain language."

She showed Crist a form letter that the department has been using.

"It's very bad. It's many three- and four-syllable words. So we worked to make sure it was more simple," Benson said, displaying a revised version that is easier to read.

After the meeting, he toured the department offices and met a number of employees, some of whom illustrated the need for plain language.

"I do the OPS involvement," Myra Ditto told Crist.

"Educate me," Crist said. "What does OPS stand for?"

"Other Personal Services," Ditto said, before explaining it's a classification of employment that generally includes part-time or temporary staff.

At his next stop, he talked with Debbie Roberts about how the department's call center works.

She told the governor that some people calling in may choose to serve themselves through the IVR.

"The what?" Crist asked.

"I'm sorry, the interactive voice response," Roberts said, before continuing and repeating the acronym a couple of more times.

And speaking of IVRs, that brings up something else Crist wants to do away with — machines that answer the phone first.

"It's important that a human being answer the phone," Crist said before the tour. "I had that experience this morning. I was calling not government, but a business and going through 'If you want to talk to so-and-so, press 281' or whatever it was. And it's very frustrating."

So, he suggested that the department needs more staff and better technology when he learned that 52 callers were still waiting to be served and that the maximum wait time to get help was 12 minutes.

He also suggested the department itself not use the acronym DBPR.

"A lot of people who are involved with regulation by this agency probably know that acronym, but we ought not assume it. It is Business and Professional Regulation. That's not hard to say so we ought to just go ahead and say it and make it easier for folks," Crist said.

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