Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Cass Sunstein's 8 Simple Rules for Making Government 'Simpler'


Listen to the story:

Download this episode | Subscribe on iTunes

Where you see a pyramid, replace it with a plate. So goes the mantra of Cass Sunstein, author of Simpler: The Future of Government and President Obama’s former “Regulatory Czar." The “plate not pyramid” slogan advocated by Sunstein, who spent four years as the Administrator of the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, refers to the decision by the Obama administration in 2011 to get rid of the famous “food pyramid”—a tool published by the USDA in 1992 to help people make healthy eating choices—and replace it with the much more intuitive “food plate.”

Eliminating the food pyramid, which Sunstein called an “honorable effort to give people information about healthy eating” is an example of how we need to start making government simpler.

“'Plate not pyramid' organized a lot of my thinking in the federal government,” said Sunstein. “There are pyramids everywhere, meaning things that are complicated and hard to navigate.” Where you see pyramids, said Sunstein, “replace it with a plate.”

In talking with us on the Excellence in Government Podcast, Sunstein offered the following as rules for making government simpler:

  1. Don’t impose a requirement unless there’s a really good reason for it.
  2. Speak in plain English, rather than in jargon.
  3. Give clear guidance, rather than vague or ambiguous guidance to people.
  4. Work very carefully with people who are going to be affected by requirements or guidance to make sure they actually understand it and to make sure they don’t have a reasonable objection to it.
  5. Make communication meaningful
  6. Keep documents as short as possible—use an executive summary when necessary
  7. Make things intuitive rather than demanding. If you make things intuitive, busy citizens don’t have to struggle with what the government is talking to them about.
  8. Engage with the American people on policy to gauge what they think is reasonable--versus what is a mess.

Listen to the Excellence in Government Podcast for more of Sunstein’s thoughts on how government can be made “simpler."

Cass Sunstein's latest book is called "Simpler: The Future of Government." 

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.