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Making Better Decisions: Leveraging Your Resources In Challenging Times

Often times it seems like the government’s answer to a problem is to add more regulations or requirements. To pile on the problem rather than really look for a solution.

AGA and six national associations of government officials released a call-to-action guide designed to help promote trust in government by limiting government requirements to those that are essential.

Helena Sims is the Director of the Intergovernmental Relations for the AGA. She told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program why reducing guidelines is key.

“We did this project to help make things more simple, make laws, regulations and guidance that are developed by government officials address just what is essential rather than be overly complicated,” said Sims. “It was our feeling that just because something is complicated doesn’t mean it will be better in the long run. We wanted to come up with a document that was hands on, that people could use as guidance to help them develop guidances that gets to the essential requirements doesn’t add anything unnecessary.”

That Sounds Great, So Why Is Reducing Guidance So Complicated?

“People tend to assume that if something is simple, it is easy to get there. But essential requirements are created by bring order to complexity.”

Three Things You Need To Create Essential Requirements:

  • Tool 1: Determining Whether a Requirement Should be Included in a Law, Regulation or Guidance. It is helpful to turn this question around and ask: if we don’t include this requirement, will the program still function effectively, efficiently and with integrity? If the program cannot function effectively, efficiently or without the requirement, then keep the requirement and use the remaining questions to make sure it does not become laden with unnecessary provisions as it is developed. However, if the program will be effective without the requirement, then consider dropping the requirement.
  • Tool 2: Promoting Clarity through Plain Writing. No one technique defines plain writing. However, PlainLanguage.gov explains that it is defined by results — it is easy to read, understand and use. The website explains that plain language (also called plain English or plain writing) is communication your audience will understand the first time they read or hear it. Admittedly, language that is plain to one set of readers may not be plain to others.
  • Tool 3: Obtaining and Protecting Good Data. Data is powerful and it’s getting more powerful. Data can be standardized, analyzed and scrutinized. It can reveal trends and patterns. It can help us manage programs, prevent and detect fraud and even make predictions about future program needs and challenges. But, because of its increasing power, data can also be dangerous; especially if it is inaccurate, unreliable or incomplete. Data can also be dangerous if security is breeched and it falls into the wrong hands.

The call-to-action was issued jointly by AGA, the Association of Educational Federal Finance Administrators (AEFFA), National Association of Federal Education Program Administrators (NAFEPA), National Association of State Auditors Comptrollers & Treasurers (NASACT), National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), and the National Grants Management Association (NGMA).

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John L. Waid

Some years ago I read an article that estimated that at least one-third of government regulations are promulgated in order to try to prevent human error. In other words, someone made a mistakethat got someone above him into trouble and someone above that person asked him what he was going to do about it. The result? Another regulation. Tool 1 is a great idea but runs up against the culture of fear that motivates all too many government managers. “Need” is in the eye of the beholder. Protecting one’s own, um. self from harm is always number one.