The feds now have to be clear and concise

Plain language is mandated for government documents


With all the commotion and hoopla of the elections, you might have overlooked passage of what I consider to be some very significant federal legislation: the “Plain Writing Act of 2010” (H.R. 946).   Signed into law by the president in mid-October, it requires the federal government to write documents, forms and publicly distributed documents in a clear, concise, well-organized manner, using simple, easy-to-understand language.   The intent is to make government more transparent, increase its accountability and save millions of dollars.   Now that’s a piece of legislation I can truly get behind.   I assume the bill was written according to the new law’s mandates as most congress people understood the bill. It passed the House by a vote of 341 to 82 and received unanimous consent in the Senate.   The “Plain Writing Act” will have a big difference for anyone who has ever filled out a tax return, received a government document and or attempted to complete a government form or application.   Sadly, though, this change is going to take some getting used to.   At present, the National Marine Fisheries Service, in the “Pacific Offshore Cetacean Take Reduction Plan: Section 229.31,” states: “After notification of NMFS, this final rule requires all CA/OR DGN vessel operators to have attended one Skipper Education Workshop after all workshops have been convened by NMFS in September 1997. CA/OR DGN vessel operators are required to attend Skipper Education Workshops at annual intervals thereafter, unless that requirement is waived by NMFS. NMFS will provide sufficient advance notice to vessel operators by mail prior to convening workshops.”   With the new law, the agency has simplified the language of this regulation to: “After notification from NMFS, vessel operators must attend a skipper education workshop before commencing fishing each fishing season.”   “High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process” would become: “Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.”   The “Plain Writing Act” would simplify “There is no escaping the fact that it is considered very important to note that a number of various available applicable studies have generally identified the fact that additional appropriate nocturnal employment could usually keep juvenile adolescents off thoroughfares, including, but not limited to, the time prior to midnight on weeknights and/or 2 a.m. on weekends.” to: “Studies have found that more night jobs would keep youths off the streets.”   Clearly, the inventive methodology spelled out in the unusual new law will be challenged by vertically-integrated facility activities and materiality that is overcapacitized with horizontalness and receptivity, along with various application-focused methods of word exchanging and communication conveyance.   More simply stated: The difficulty in language is not what is written but how it is written and what is meant.   I wish our federal government well in its movement toward plain language.