Why the Time Is Now to KISS (a.k.a. Keep It Simple, Stupid)

July 13, 2011 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

Ever looked at a federal agency document or regulation and said to yourself, “Huh?” Rubbing your eyes and taking a second read still doesn’t provide any clarity. Can’t they just use different words to make it easier to understand? “Government-ese” — as we journalists like to call it — is like a disease that has a long history of baffling the public and regulatory stakeholders.

Today, however, is the day that all federal agencies are expected to take a bold step to inject an antibiotic into that disease. Under Office of Management and Budget guidance issued in April informing federal agencies how to implement the Plain Writing Act of 2010, agencies as of today must:

  • designate one or more senior officials for plain writing who will oversee the agency’s implementation of the act;
  • create a plain writing section on the agency website;
  • explain the act’s requirements to agency employees and train them to write clearer; and
  • publish an initial implementation report that describes the agency’s plan for implementing the act.

By Oct. 13, agencies must begin writing all new or substantially revised documents covered by the act in plain writing. Documents covered are those that are necessary for obtaining any federal government benefit or service, or for filing taxes; provide information about a federal benefit or service; or explain how to comply with a requirement the federal government administers or enforces.

While the act exempts regulations from covered documents, rulemaking preambles are not exempted, and long-standing policies now in effect require regulations to be written in a manner that is “simple and easy to understand.” It’s quite possible that clearer regulations and documents may actually result in better compliance.

Kudos to the Department of the Interior, which launched its plain language webpage prior to the implementation date. Any attempt to counter government-ese is a winner in my book.

What government documents have you seen that can use a rewrite in plain language? We’d like to see some confusing examples and how they could be simplified.

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