Plain Speaking

By Thomas Duffy / November 23, 2010 at 3:36 PM

Ever read through a government report or memo -- especially one coming out of the Pentagon -- and felt you needed a road map just to find your way to the end? The Obama administration is trying to do something about that by issuing preliminary rules yesterday for the Plain Writing Act of 2010.

President Obama signed the legislation into law back in mid-October with an eye toward promoting "clear government communication that the public can understand and use," according to an Office of Management and Budget memo released yesterday. The law requires OMB to "develop and issue guidance on implementing the requirements" of the act by April 13, 2011. In the memo, OMB says that final guidance will be developed by the deadline but until then the preliminary rules will give federal agencies some much needed direction.

OMB explains the purpose behind the law this way:

Plain writing is concise, simple, meaningful, and well-organized. It avoids jargon, redundancy, ambiguity, and obscurity. It does not contain unnecessary complexity.

This is not the first time a sitting administration has tried to untangle government syntax and retire certain jargon. OMB provides several examples of how plain writing can save the taxpayer a few dollars:

  • reduce questions from the public to agency staff;
  • improve compliance with regulations;
  • reduce resources spent on enforcement;
  • reduce errors on forms and applications; and
  • reduce time spent addressing errors.