President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 into law on Oct. 13, 2010. Simply put, by October 2011, federal agencies are required to generate “plain language” documents to help the public find what they need, understand what they find and use what they find to meet their needs. The act covers documents needed to obtain and learn about government benefits and services, as well as to comply with federal requirements. (For the record, plain language in regulations is addressed separately by three different executive orders.)
I am proud that the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy, which I head, will lead the Department of Labor’s efforts to implement the Plain Writing Act. Over the coming weeks and months, my staff will work closely with DOL’s agencies, each of which will have a plain language coordinator. We will take care to balance the specific needs and audiences of every agency with the objectives of the act.
Since achieving full compliance will require support from everyone at the Labor Department, we also will provide plain language training for employees. OASP and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management will identify the most appropriate strategies, tapping the successes of others – the Department of the Army, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control – that already have done so.
But in general, moving forward, the DOL team will ensure that our materials:
- Speak directly to readers by using personal pronouns (“we” instead of “Department of Labor” and “you” instead of “applicant,” “employer,” etc.).
- Use short sentences that don’t contain unnecessary words.
- Avoid technical jargon.
- Use clear headings to guide readers through documents.
To illustrate, I’ll borrow an example from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. See the “before” and “after” language below:
This regulation governs disaster assistance for services to prevent hardship caused by fire, flood, or acts of nature that are not provided by FEMA or the Red Cross.
This regulation governs disaster assistance that:
(a) Consists of services to prevent hardship caused by fire, flood, or acts of nature; and
(b) Is furnished by a provider other than FEMA or the Red Cross.
I look forward to working with my DOL colleagues as, together, we achieve full compliance with this important act. And I am pleased that we will keep the public apprised of our progress at a dedicated website, http://www.dol.gov/dol/PlainWriting.