OMB appoints plain language working group

Tuesday - 11/23/2010, 2:44pm EST

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Agencies developing new guidelines under the Plain Writing Act of 2010 should reference www.plainlanguage.gov as a starting point.

The Office of Management and Budget told agencies that unless their existing guidelines meet the law, agencies will have to update their regulations using the document on the site, according to an OMB memo on Monday.

The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) developed the guidelines as part of its long-running effort to make government writing more clear. PLAIN started in 1994 as way for a group of federal employees to support clear government writing.

OMB designated PLAIN members as the official interagency working group to assist in developing the required guidance to meet the new law.

"As a first step, your agency should consult with PLAIN to determine if your agency has a representative in this group who can assist in carrying out your plain writing efforts," wrote Cass Sunstein, administrator in OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), in the memo.

The memo comes just over a month after President Obama signed the Plan Writing Act of 2010 into law.

This is the second time agencies have received a mandate to write in plain language. In June 1998, President Bill Clinton signed a memo requiring agencies to take steps to make regulations and other documents more easily understood.

The newly appointed working group is led by Amy Bunk, the director of legal affairs and policy in the Office of the Federal Register, and Kathryn Catania, the web content editor in the Office of Communication at the Homeland Security Department's Citizenship and Immigration Services directorate.

PLAIN states on its website that it meets "monthly to discuss plain language issues. Our meetings are open to all federal employees."

To help promote the use of plain language PLAIN offers limited editing services to agencies, occasional seminars, comment on agency documents, especially regulations and offers a half-day introduction to all federal agencies free of charge.

The new law requires agencies to take specific steps over the next year, including naming a senior official to oversee the implementation of the act by July 13.

It also requires by Oct. 13 agencies write in plain language any documents that are necessary for obtaining a federal benefit or for filing taxes, provide information about the any government service or benefit and any explanation to the public for complying with federal requirements.

Agencies must submit their first implementation reports to OMB by July 13 as well.

"Plain writing is concise, simple, meaningful, and well-organized," Sunstein wrote. "It avoids jargon, redundancy, ambiguity, and obscurity. It does not contain unnecessary complexity. Plain writing should be seen as an essential part of open government."

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