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Plain Writing Legislative History
— 2007-2010

By Irwin Berent, Plain Writing Association
 SEE ALSO: Bill Comparisons / Media's Response / Historical Bibliography 

Introduction | Background  | 110th Congress (2007-2008) 
  H.R. 3548   S. 2291 
| 111th Congress (2009-2010) |
  S. 574   H.R. 946 

A Project of the Plain Writing Association

SENATE BILL 2291

     Senate Bill 2291 (S. 2291), a companion bill to H.R. 3548, was introduced by Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) in the U.S. Senate on november 1, 2007. The bill was also titled the "Plain Language in Government Communications Act of 2007" and its long title was also the same as that of H.R. 3548: "To enhance citizen access to Government information and services by establishing plain language as the standard style for Government documents issued to the public, and for other purposes." The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. ("Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions," Congressional Record, pp. S13691-13692 [HTML, PDF]; see the introduced (and only) version here, as "Version #1" in the Plain Writing Association's Bill Comparisons project.)

     Sen. Akaka, and all the co-sponsors, were also members of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Original co-sponsors included Democratic Senators Thomas R. Carper (DE), Carl Levin (MI), and Claire McCaskill (MO); subsequently, the following Senators joined in sponsorship: Barack Obama (D-IL) on november 13, 2007; Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), 3/3/8; Jon Tester (D-MT), 3/6/8; George V. Voinovich (R-OH), 3/10/8; Susan M. Collins (R-ME), 3/11/8; and Thad Cochran (R-MS), 3/13/8.

     Sen. Akaka made some additional introductory remarks on the Senate floor on november 6, 2007. In particular, Sen. Akaka quoted from a recent Washington Post article about the poorly written Federal job advertisements (Congressional Record, pp. S13985-13986 [HTML, PDF].)

     On April 10, 2008, the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ordered the bill reported favorably without amendment. Members present for the vote were Independent Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT), chairman; Democrats Carl Levin (D-MI), Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Thomas R. Carper (D-DE), Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Jon Tester (D-MT), and Republicans Susan M. Collins (R-ME), George V. Voinovich (R-OH), and John E. Sununu (R-NH). (Absent were Mark L. Pryor (D-AR), Barack Obama (D-IL), Ted Stevens (R-AK), Norm Coleman (R-MN), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Pete V. Domenici (R-NM), and John Warner (R-VA).) (Senate Report 110-412 [HTML, PDF].)

     Though the Committee offered no amendment, it appears that it was intended that Sen. Akaka would later offer a substitute amendment at some time prior to its passage by the Senate. For the Report notes:
     OMB raised concerns about the burden that this legislation will place on that agency. The Committee intends that OMB would play a coordinating and facilitating role. However, agencies would be primarily responsible for implementing the plain language requirements and OMB would not be responsible for reviewing agency communications for compliance or directly overseeing the plain language requirements. To further address OMB's concerns, Senator Akaka intends to offer a substitute amendment to S. 2281 [sic], prior to its passage by the Senate. Section 4(b) of the substitute amendment would permit the Director of OMB to designate a lead agency and to use interagency working groups to assist OMB in carrying out its responsibilities under the Act.
(Senate Report 110-412 [HTML, PDF].)
In fact, Sen. Akaka would never offer such an amendment, even for the Senate's Plain Writing Act of 2010 (S. 574), which he would introduce in the next (111th) Congress. An essentially identical amendment, however, was indeed ultimately offered for the House's Plain Writing Act (H.R. 946) during the 111th Congress. Part of the so-called "Towns amendment," it appears in Section 4(c) of the second version of H.R. 946 (see Version #2 in the Plain Writing Association's Bill Comparisons project).

The Report also addressed the question of why there was no requirement either to rewrite existing documents or to write regulations in plain language:
Unlike the Clinton memorandum, however, the Plain Language Act would not require rewriting existing documents in plain language or writing regulations in plain language. The legislation would exclude these requirements in order to reduce the burden on agencies and OMB. Likewise, the Committee recognizes that many regulations are technical and complicated, so implementing plain language writing for rulemaking may require additional planning and training beyond what is necessary for other documents. Accordingly, the Plain Language Act would allow agencies to focus their efforts first on other types of writing.
(Senate Report 110-412 [HTML, PDF].)
     According to the Report, the following organizations sent or joined letters in support of the Plain Language in Government Communications Act: the AARP, Disabled American Veterans, National Small Business Association, Small Business Legislative Council, Women Impacting Public Policy, American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, Special Libraries Association, American Nurses Association, Association for Business Communication, Association of Professional Communication Consultants, Strategic Communication Inc., and Usability Professionals' Association. (The letters were available upon request to the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia.) (Senate Report 110-412 [HTML, PDF].)

Budget Office Cost Estimate

     On April 15, 2008, Congressional Budget Office director Peter R. Orszag submitted to chairman Lieberman the CBO's cost estimate for the Plain Language in Government Communications Act of 2007:
     CBO estimates that implementing S. 2291 would cost up to $2 million a year for agencies to implement the additional employee training and reporting requirements, subject to the availability of appropriated funds. The bill could also affect direct spending by agencies not funded through annual appropriations, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Bonneville Power Administration. CBO estimates, however, that any increase in spending by those agencies would not be significant.
     Most provisions of the bill would codify and expand current practices of the federal government. Executive Order 12866 and the Presidential Memorandum on Plain Language (June 1, 1998) currently require government agencies to write in language that is comprehensible to readers. Based on information from OMB, CBO estimates that implementing this bill would not significantly increase the cost of preparing various paper or electronic documents used throughout the government.
     S. 2291 contains no intergovernmental or private-sector mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act and would not affect the budgets of state, local, or tribal governments.
     On April 8, 2008, CBO provided a cost estimate for H.R. 3548, the Plain Language in Government Communications Act of 2007, as ordered reported by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on March 13, 2008. Both pieces of legislation are similar and the estimated costs are the same.
     The CBO staff contact for this estimate is Matthew Pickford. This estimate was approved by Theresa Gullo, Deputy Assistant Director for Budget Analysis.

(From: CBO.gov, doc. 914.)
S. 2291 Dies in Senate

     On July 10 (legislative day, July 9), 2008, the bill was reported favorably, without amendment, by Committee chairman Sen. Lieberman; and S. 2291 was placed on Senate Legislative Calendar No. 869 under General Orders, where it stalled without being acted upon for the remainder of the 110th Congress. (Senate Report 110-412 [HTML, PDF].)

     Writing in the September 15, 2008, issue of GovernmentExecutive.com, Terry Kivlan described what happened in his article, "Utah senator stalls 'plain language' bill" (from: http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0908/091508cdpm1.htm):
     In April, the measure cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on voice vote, while a similar measure passed the House 376-1.
     It was expected to breeze through the Senate just before lawmakers left town for their summer recess when Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, placed a hold on behalf of [Robert F.] Bennett [R-Utah].
     According to Bennett aides, he was concerned about its impact on the Federal Election Commission and the Election Assistance Commission -- both of which fall under the oversight jurisdiction of the Senate Rules Committee, where he serves as ranking member.
     "The FEC in particular is required to interpret campaign finance law and issue regulations that are often full of legal terms," spokeswoman Tara Hendershott said in an e-mail. "These precise terms may become lost in translation if [the FEC is] required to use whatever OMB determines is 'plain English.'" Hendershott added that while Bennett understands the need for clear communication, "he is concerned about the unintended consequences of this bill."
     Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, sponsor of the legislation, expressed disappointment in Bennett's move. The Hawaii senator said in a statement that his measure "is a good bipartisan bill that would improve Americans' access to their government," and "deserves an up or down vote on the floor." Aides to Akaka and Bennett said last week that they were discussing compromise language for the legislation but had not reached an agreement.
     Senate Majority [Leader] Harry Reid, D-Nev., is not planning to try to bring up the bill if Bennett will force him to file cloture, according to a spokesman. But Bennett has come under pressure from outside Congress. The National Small Business Association sent him a letter last week asking him release his hold, arguing that the bill would "not be a mandate" as such, and that it represented a "common sense approach to saving small business -- and the federal government -- time, effort and money.



P.W.A. PROJECTS

Plain Writing Association / Plain Writing Act / 
plain English star Plain Writing Legislation: A Comparison of Bills
      — This Project of the Plain Writing Association uses proofreading marks and side-by-side comparisons to show how the various versions of the major plain writing bills of the last few years evolved into the Plain Writing Act of 2010. (MORE)

Plain Writing Association / Plain Writing Act / 
plain English star Plain Writing Legislative History
      — This Project of the Plain Writing Association presents a legislative history of the passage of the Plain Writing Act of 2010, documenting the process by which failed plain-writing legislation in the 110th and 111th Congresses ultimately led to the Act. (MORE)

Plain Writing Association / Plain Writing Act / 
plain English star Government Use of Plain Language Editing Software
      — This Project of the Plain Writing Association is a separate website (writersupercenter.com/stylewriterforgovernment) which advocates the use of the ground-breaking plain-English editing software known as StyleWriter Software to assist government in writing more clearly and concisely, in compliance with the Plain Writing Act. (MORE)

Plain Writing Association / Plain Writing Act / 
plain English star The Media's Response to Plain Writing Legislative Efforts
      — This ongoing Project of the Plain Writing Association attempts to document the media's response to the legislative efforts leading to the Plain Writing Act of 2010.  Focusing mainly on the period from 2007 to 2010, the Project, arranged chronologically, presents links to articles and posts in blogs, newspapers, and other periodicals. (MORE)

Plain Writing Association / Plain Writing Act / 
plain English star A Historical Bibliography of the Plain Language Movement
      — This ongoing Project of the Plain Writing Association presents links to articles that cover the main categories of the history of the plain language movement within American government. (MORE)

PLAIN ENGLISH SOFTWARE
StyleWriter For Government Website
Through our writersupercenter.com/stylewriterforgovernment website, PWA distributes plain-writing editing software to governments, businesses, organizations, and individuals. (MORE)

StyleWriter Editing Software
Working within MS Word, StyleWriter Editing Software converts any kinds of written documents (reports, correspondence, contracts, regulations, essays, etc.) into clear, concise, plain English... as you write. StyleWriter identifies and corrects more than 35,000 patterns of writing styles and problems. (See DEMO)

...StyleWriter Software is currently used in the offices of numerous federal agencies, such as the FDA, EPA, and FAA, as well as within 100s of businesses, organizations, and universities worldwide — and by 1000s of individuals.
      StyleWriter is helping to change the culture of careless, unclear, and confusing writing. And in the process, it is helping to save countless hours of work and millions of dollars otherwise lost answering confused client inquiries and complaints, clearing up foul-ups caused by miscommunications, and repeating misunderstood requests.

Electronic Writing Course
We now have at our StyleWriterForGovernment website an Electronic Writing Course that can be used in conjunction with, or separate from, the StyleWriter Software. It's a thorough self-directed course in writing that provides employees with all they need to know to be proficient editors of their work and to make the most effective use of StyleWriter Software. (DETAILS)

Introduction | Background  | 110th Congress (2007-2008) 
  H.R. 3548   S. 2291 
| 111th Congress (2009-2010) |
  S. 574   H.R. 946 

A Project of the Plain Writing Association

Copyright © 2010-2011 Plain Writing Association