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


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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.

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