In a post on the White House Blog yesterday, entitled “Putting it plainly,” Cass Sunstein, the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, describes the huge difference that the use of plain language on the part of federal agencies can make. Sunstein notes that “far too often, agencies use confusing, technical, and acronym-filled language. Such language can cost consumers and small business owners precious time in their efforts to play by the rules. The good news is that relatively small efforts to communicate more clearly can minimize that burden.”
On October 13, 2010, President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 into law. The Act calls for writing that is clear, concise, and well-organized. This requirement applies to “covered documents,” that is to say, any document that:
– is necessary for obtaining any Federal Government benefit or service or filing taxes (e.g., tax forms or benefit applications);
– provides information about any Federal Government benefit or service (e.g., handbooks for Medicare or Social Security recipients); or
– explains to the public how to comply with a requirement the Federal Government administers or enforces (e.g., guidance on how to prepare required reports or comply with safety requirements).
The statutory definition also includes (whether in paper or electronic form) a letter, publication, form, notice, or instruction, but does not include a regulation.
To help federal agencies to comply with the Plain Writing Act of 2010, Cass Sunstein issued a final guidance document on April 13, 2011 (available here). To mention some of the requirements: By July 13, 2011, each agency must:
– designate one or more Senior Officials for Plain Writing who will be responsible for overseeing the agency’s implementation of the Act and this guidance;
– create a plain writing section of the agency website;
– communicate the Act’s requirements to agency employees and train agency employees in plain writing;
– establish a process by which the agency will oversee its ongoing compliance with the Act’s requirements; and
– publish an initial report, on the plain writing section of the agency’s website, that describes the agency’s plan for implementing the Act’s requirements.
More information -including the writing guidelines that the agencies should follow when drafting covered documents- is available on www.plainlanguage.gov/.