House panel votes to untangle bureaucratic language

Bill would require agencies to use plain language writing so ordinary citizens could understand regulations.

The House Government Reform committee advanced legislation that aims to cut away the bureaucratic jargon and legalese that muddles government rules and regulations.

The legislation (H.R. 4809) approved by voice vote would require government agencies to use "plain language writing," which would help ordinary citizens decode and understand regulations, Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., told committee members. It would be the first measure to define "plain language" in federal law. It now moves to the House floor for consideration.

Miller, the bill's chief sponsor, said that "Americans are confused by the language of bureaucrats," adding that ordinary citizens may not fully understand the meaning of federal law because of the cryptic lingo that is currently used.

The layman's term approach would free up time and money exhausted to decode the basic meaning of federal laws. In a March subcommittee hearing led by Miller, representatives from the National Association of Small Businesses and Center for Plain Language agreed government lingo was a barrier to efficiency. Miller said the general public can spend hours and days trying to understand the confusing language seen in small business loan applications, zoning regulations and the judicial laws.

Miller's bill, cosponsored by Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., requires agencies to designate a plain language coordinator, and establishes a review process to ensure that rewritten regulations are properly concise before than can be published in the Federal Register. The bipartisan measure also calls for training government employees on concise writing.