Supervisors to pay a $1 fine for using bureaucratic lingo

This type of rule may be largely symbolic, but the issue at question does deal with the meaning and usage of symbols, so perhaps it’s appropriate. It’s interesting to see a stand taken for effective communication and creating a smoother more usable “interface” to an organization. Organizations – the more bureaucratic, the better – become very focused on their insides, and not their outsides, thinking about their own processes and nomenclature and expecting their customers to adapt to their systems. It’s unfriendly, takes more effort, frustrating, distancing, and ultimately requires more work on their part to actually clarify or correct mistakes.

Contra Costa County supervisors who use certain dirty words during weekly meetings will have to cough up $1 fines. Under a new policy unanimously adopted Tuesday, bureaucratic acronyms like EIR, LAFCO, ABAG and RFP will be verboten in the board chambers in Martinez, not just from the supervisors’ podium but also in all written materials for board meetings.

‘We throw them around all the time,” said Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond, who proposed making Contra Costa the first county in California to adopt the anti-acronym stand. Politicians and bureaucrats there now must use phrases instead — environmental impact report, the Local Agency Formation Commission, the Association of Bay Area Governments and Request for Proposals.

He asserted that the public, whether sitting in the chambers or watching on television, can be confused when government officials engage in alphabet-soup discussions of programs.


Just last week I received a letter from the Canadian passport office. It was a piece of paper with 2 dozen check boxes available, each indicating a different type of problem. The problem with my form was checked, a couple of words appended, and a pointer to a code (“see PPT 0S1” – although was that 0 or O was unclear) – but no indication of what that code was, how to find the information in that code, and ultimately what to do with the information and card they sent me. No return envelope or instructions about where to mail it. I filled out the attached card and went to the web and found the mailing address and put it in the mail. When it arrives, will they be able to link this supplement with the information they have on file? I never found PPT 0S1. Really crappy experience for something as crucial as a passport. And this is, of course, typical. Especially for governmental agencies.

So, kudos to Contra Costa County for a SITRD! (step in the right direction)


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