Use plain English and get to the point.
That suggestion by a Los Angeles businessman fed up with indecipherable government notices and paperwork garnered him the Small Business Administration's first national award for regulatory innovation.
SBA officials bestowed the honor Tuesday on Harold Igdaloff, president of L.A.-based Sungro Chemicals Inc., as part of the agency's Small Business Week festivities in Washington. It comes just a day after the Clinton administration fired off an executive order instructing all federal agencies to rid their communications of bureaucratic gobbledygook.
Igdaloff's idea, while unrelated to the administration's order, addresses the same long-standing problem: the proliferation of eye-glazing legalese in government forms, documents and letters.
Specifically, Igdaloff wants federal agencies to provide simple, concise summaries with all notices they send out to small businesses. The idea, he says, is to save time-starved entrepreneurs the trouble of reading through pages of impenetrable text to figure out what should be stated in the first few paragraphs: What is this about? Does it apply to me? Do I have to do anything? Is there a deadline?
"We'll get something in the mail and have to read 17 pages to find out whether it's even applicable to us," said Igdaloff, whose firm manufactures pesticides and fertilizers for industrial use. "Countless man-hours are being wasted by small businesses just figuring out how to comply with confusing regulations."
Igdaloff's suggestion is one of 10 principle recommendations the SBA has been pushing as part of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act. That 1996 law was supposed to foster a regulatory environment that's more responsive to small businesses. It created a process by which entrepreneurs can put pressure on federal agencies to become more user-friendly.
Igdaloff's suggestion, along with hundreds of others, was fielded at a series of public hearings to solicit ideas for reform. His push for a plain-English, executive summary of long-winded agency notices is one of the most likely to win acceptance, according to SBA National Ombudsman Peter Barca. He said the Department of Veteran's Affairs has already agreed to comply and that he'll be meeting with at least 33 other agencies that have regulatory enforcement authority over small businesses.
"Harold's idea would be simple to implement. It's easy and it's common sense," Barca said. "This is a huge issue because it affects every small business in America."
The changes couldn't come too soon for Igdaloff. A chemical engineer who founded his business in 1968, the 72-year-old estimates he now spends nearly a quarter of his time shuffling paperwork required by various local, state and federal agencies.
He said he is pleased by the SBA award, but what he really wants is a meaningful reduction in time-consuming red tape.
"The most important commodity for a small-business owner is time," he said.
The SBA might also want to look at getting its own paperwork in order before it lectures other federal agencies on how to improve theirs. The plaque it gave Igdaloff for his Regulatory Innovation Award bears the name "Howard" instead of "Harold."