Plain Writing Laws
Is your peanut butter safe? Is it safe to order drugs online? The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates products that we use everyday – food, human and animal drugs, dietary supplements, medical devices, vaccines, tobacco – the list sometimes seems endless.
The FDA shares information about these products every day, so it’s essential that they write clearly so you can understand and use their information easily to protect your health. (more…)
The first review since agencies were required to create plans for cutting the “bureaucrat-ese” from their dealings with the public found mixed results at many agencies. The Center for Plain Language, a group that advocates for clear writing in government documents, released a scorecard this week marking agency progress meeting requirements under the 2010 Plain Writing Act.
USDA Gets an “A;” VA Gets an “F” on First Plain Writing Act Report Card Released Today by the Center for Plain Language
Rep. Braley and the Center for Plain Language Release Report Card Grades at Telephone News Briefing
Washington, DC – The U.S. Department of Agriculture received an “A” and the Veterans’ Administration received an “F” on the first Plain Writing Act Report Card released today by the Center for Plain Language, a nonprofit organization dedicated to clear communication in government, business, non-profits, and universities. (more…)
How well are federal agencies adhering to the Plain Writing Act? The Center for Plain Language is issuing a “report card” grading several federal agencies on how well they are implementing the Act. The results will be released at a telephone news briefing on Thursday, July 19, 12 noon, featuring Rep. Bruce Braley (IA), the main sponsor of the Act, and Annetta L. Cheek, PhD, chair of the Center for Plain Language, the nonprofit organization grading the federal agencies.
Washington Post, April 8, 2012
Center for Plain Language chair Annetta Cheek spoke with reporter Lisa Rein about progress in implementing the Plain Writing Act.
“Federal agencies must report their progress this week in complying with the Plain Writing Act, a new decree that government officials communicate more conversationally with the public.
Speaking plainly, they ain’t there yet.
On January 18, Congressman Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) introduced the Plain Regulations Act. Braley also introduced the Plain Writing Act, which became law on October 13, 2010, with strong bipartisan support. The original draft of that Act had covered regulations, but the provision was deleted during the legislative process because of opposition from several sources. (more…)
When the Plain Writing Act of 2010 was passed, regulations were not included as part of the Act. That is, the federal government now has to write information that explain benefits and services in plain language, but regulations were omitted. But Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), who sponsored the PWA, is back at it. He has introduced Plain Regulations Act (H.R. 3786), to require that regulations be written in plain language.
Why is this another important law?
Small businesses, in particular, waste millions of dollars hiring attorneys or trying to figure out themselves how to comply with regulations they don’t understand. Such overly complex and incomprehensible rules add to an inability to comply.
Braley wants to change that. As he says:
“Whether you like or loathe government regulations, I think everyone can agree that when ne exists it should be written as clearly as possible. Sadly, gobbledygook dominates the regulations issued by government agencies, making it almost impossible for small businesses to understand the rules of the road.
“The Plain Regulations Act would simplify rules, saving small businesses time and freeing up money that can be better used investing in growing the business and creating jobs.
“Simplifying regulations won’t eliminate the costs of compliance, but it will reduce them. And it’s an easy way to save small businesses money that can quickly attract bipartisan support.”
If you’re not convinced, imagine figuring out what this regulation from the construction industry means:
“On or after July 6, 2010, all renovations must be performed in accordance with the work practice standards in §745.85 and the associated recordkeeping requirements in §745.86(b)(1) and (b)(6) in target housing or child-occupied facilities, unless the renovation qualifies for the exception identified in §745.82(a)” with the sub-exception that “emergency renovations are not exempt from the cleaning requirements of §745.85(a)(5), which must be performed by certified renovators or individuals trained in accordance with §745.90(b)(2), the cleaning verification requirements of §745.85(b), which must be performed by certified renovators, and the recordkeeping requirements of §745.86(b)(6) and (b)(7).”
That gave me a headache.
Watch for opportunities to comment on the new bill. Be ready to write/phone/email your Congress people. Share this news with all small businesses. And let Rep. Braley know you appreciate all his efforts on our behalf.
The one-year anniversary of the Plain Writing Act signing was perfect timing for the Center for Plain Language to hold a plain language workshop. Under the Act, federal employees and contractors are required to write all documents in plain language.
The highlight of the workshop attended by 70 from 18 federal agencies and bureaus, was an address by the Act’s key sponsor, Rep. Bruce Braley. Braley shared some personal stories about why plain language is so important to him as an attorney, and talked about the process of getting the Act signed after two years of starts and stops. Braley connected the Act to education, jobs, saving the country time and money, and even to the approval rating of members of Congress. The Center for Plain Language gave Rep. Braley the award for Outstanding Leader for Plain Language after his keynote.
“When we as legislators can improve the quality of our communications so that we help our constituents solve their problems, that’s when Congress’ approval rating will go up,” said Braley
Another highlight of the workshop was information from the Office of Management and Budget’s Nick Frazier. Frazier’s explanation and clarification of OMB’s agency guidance was important to the attendees, especially those new to plain language.
The Department of the Interior’s plain language expert led an in-depth session on what plain language is and what it isn’t. Representatives from three additional federal agencies (Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security and the IRS) also shared their individual stories of how they led their agency to start using plain language. The agency reps said they offer training, document review, and counseling to their agency personnel.
Roundtable discussions led by government plain language champions and Center Board Members provided a forum for attendees to get all their plain language questions answered.
At the end of the day, one participant commented, “I have no unanswered question. Actually, I got answers to questions that I didn’t even know I had.”
In the plain language world, we teach writers to look for the “unasked questions.”
Congratulation to Henry Maury, the Center’s new Executive Director, and organizer of the event, for practicing what we teach.
As a communications professional in a large federal agency, I can tell you that those of us who’ve been banging the plain language drum for years were thrilled at the passage of last year’s Plain Writing Act.
A year later, complying with the legislation has become one more carrot (or stick!) we’re using to coax colleagues away from traditional bloated government-speak.