October 15, 2010
It's Time for "Plain Language:" Obama signs H.R. 946, the Plain Writing Act of 2010
H.R. 946, the Plain Writing Act of 2010, was sent to the President on Oct. 1, 2010 and signed into law on Oct. 13, 2010. No Public Law number on THOMAS as of yesterday evening because, well I don't know why. Perhaps the hard working staff who keep THOMAS up to date are also taking a much needed break during the Congressional recess. EPA, FDA, SEC and tax attorneys, and invoice paying law librarians can breathe a sight of relief because the Plan Writing Act does not cover regulations.
The Act requires each agency, by one year after enactment, to use plain writing in every covered document of the agency that the agency issues or substantially revises. It defines "covered document" to: (1) mean any document that is relevant to obtaining any federal benefit or service or filing taxes, that provides information about any federal benefit or service, or that explains to the public how to comply with a requirement the federal government administers or enforces; (2) include (whether in paper or electronic form) a letter, publication, form, notice, or instruction; and (3) exclude a regulation.
By plain writing, the Act calls for "writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience." TaxProf Blog offers illustrations of before and after Plain Writing Act of 2010 taxpayer notices of IRS proposed changes to a filed 1040. Certainly a writing style change moving in the right direction.
However, I for one, received an IRS notice last year that in no uncertained terms clearly stated I owed the federal governent cold hard cash because I failed to include one 1099 in my filing. Opening the letter was an "OMG I'm getting audited moment", but the notice amounted to a ""you owe the IRS $XXX.xx" statement. Yup, I missed a 1099 and it was a "my bad." Needless to say, I mailed off the payment immediately. No "plain writing act" needed... . [JH]
As you doubtless know already, the Act is officially Public Law 111-274. Let us hope that the Act doesn't serve only to further dumb down the American public and lead to oversimplification that leaves out information we need. Perhaps it's best that this Act did not cover regulations. The Federal government often makes things worse, not better, when it hands down directives from above. I suspect that bureaucratic language will end only when bureaucracy ends. And right now, the Federal government is so bloated that nothing short of a giant knife cutting through a trillion feet of red tape will begin to clear the air, and clear the language. I'm running the Honest Government blogs (at www.ConservativeWords.com), trying to inject some understanding about truth and openness in government. I'm also encouraging Federal agencies to use editing software to improve their writing (see www.StyleWriterForGovernment.com).
Posted by: Irwin Berent | Nov 30, 2010 1:59:44 PM
Public Law numbers are assigned by the Office of the Federal Register. When they get a glut of bills, it takes a few days to work through them all.
Posted by: Edward Still | Oct 15, 2010 11:51:47 AM