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'Plain Writing Act of 2010' Seeks Clearer Government Communications

Plain language The Legal Writing Prof Blog notes that last month, President Obama signed into law the Plain Writing Act of 2010. The Act's stated purpose is "to improve the effectiveness and accountability of Federal agencies to the public by promoting clear Government communication that the public can understand and use." Hallelujah!

The Act was introduced by Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, who stated in a press release that it will result in "tax returns, federal college aid applications, and Veterans Administration forms in simple easy-to-understand language, making government more transparent and saving the government millions of dollars."

Braley says that a re-write of one letter from the Veterans Benefits Administration asking beneficiaries to update their contact information increased responses by 75 percent, saving the VA approximately $8 million in follow-up costs.

The Act states that within nine months of its enactment, each federal agency will train its employees in plain writing and establish a process to ensure compliance with the new plain writing rules. The Act also requires that within one year of the date of enactment, "each agency shall use plain writing in every covered document of the agency that the agency issues or substantially revises."

It is unclear how "enforcement" of the Act will work. Indeed, the Act specifically states that "[t]here shall be no judicial review of compliance or noncompliance with any provision of this Act" and, moreover, "no provision of this Act shall be construed to create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable by any administrative or judicial action."

Still, the goal of having federal agencies produce user-friendly documents is quite commendable, and will hopefully result in government communications that are actually understandable and useful. To view the power of plain English, see this example I discussed back in August 2010 from simplicity guru Alan Siegel. You can also check out plainlanguage.gov, which appears to be a hub for the "plain writing in government" movement.

Posted by Bruce Carton on November 15, 2010 at 11:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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