Lawmakers' message loud and clear on jargon

The Senate on Monday passed legislation requiring the federal government to use clear language in public documents and to eliminate confusing jargon. Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, sponsored the 2010 Plain Writing Act.

The Plain Writing Act would give federal agencies one year to implement the use of clear language in all public documents. The legislation requires agencies, no later than nine months after the law would take effect, to appoint one or more senior officials to oversee implementation. Agencies also would be responsible for establishing a compliance process, informing the public of their compliance, and receiving and responding to public input on the government's efforts. The Office of Management and Budget is required to publish guidance for agencies on incorporating the mandate no later than six months after the law takes effect.

"Americans lose time and money because government instructions, forms and other documents are too complicated," Akaka, chairman of the government management oversight subcommittee, said in a statement. "People need to be able to understand what documents say in order to hold the federal government accountable." He described the bill as "common-sense reform."

According to Voinovich, ranking member of the subcommittee, "Americans spend 7.6 billion hours a year grappling with incomprehensible tax forms and instructions. In fact, 82 percent of Americans get so confused they pay for help filing their taxes -- stripping dollars from much-needed tax refunds."

A similar bill, also sponsored by Akaka, languished in 2008 after Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, acting on behalf of Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, stalled it. Bennett feared the bill would complicate the work of the Federal Election Commission and the Election Assistance Commission.

The battle against government jargon is not new. Since the mid-1990s, members of the Plain Language Action and Information Network, a group of federal employees from various agencies, have discussed best practices to combat the use of acronyms and incomprehensible language across government. The Plain Writing Act urges agencies to follow the guidance of PLAIN before OMB issues its best practices for implementation.

The House passed its version of the bill in March. It now returns to the House to reconcile the two versions.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.