Following up on the two failed efforts to pass plain language bills in the previous (110th) Congress, two plain language bills were introduced in the 111th Congress (2009-2010). The first bill, H.R. 946 (short title "Plain Language Act of 2009") was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on February 10, 2009. The companion bill, S. 574 (short title "Plain Writing Act of 2009"), was introduced in the U.S. Senate one month later.
Both bills were very similar to the failed S. 2291 from the previous Congress. Both were also very similar to each other; and the long title of each was the same: a bill "To enhance citizen access to Government information and services by establishing that Government documents issued to the public must be written clearly, and for other purposes."
Let's look first at the bill that didn't survive, S. 574.
The "Plain Writing Act of 2009" was introduced as Senate Bill 574 (S. 574) by Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) into the U.S. Senate at the First Session of the 111th Congress on March 11, 2009. Senators George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), Thomas R. Carper (D-Delaware), Carl Levin (D-Michigan), Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), and Jon Tester (D-Montana) were original co-sponsors of the bill (and had been sponsors of the previous term's S. 2291). Subsequently, Ranking Minority Member Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) joined in co-sponsorship on March 31, 2009; Roland W. Burris (D-Illinois), who replaced Barack Obama, also joined (March 23), but withdrew on March 31. S. 574 was a companion bill to the House's H.R. 946, which, had been introduced one month earlier as the Plain Language Act of 2009 (to be discussed in our next, and final, section). The bill was read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT), chairman. ("Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions," Congressional Record, pp. S3032-3033
PDF]; see the introduced version
here, as "Version #1" in the Plain Writing Association's Bill Comparisons project.)
SENATE BILL 574
On April 1, 2009, the Committee considered S. 574 and, after attaching an amendment, ordered, via voice vote, that the bill be reported favorably to the Senate. (See this last version of S. 574
here, as "Version #2" in the Plain Writing Association's Bill Comparisons project.) Members present for the vote were Chairman Lieberman (Independent), Senators Akaka, Carper, Mark L. Pryor (AR), Tester, and Burris, Democrats, and Ranking Minority Member Collins and Senators Robert F. Bennett (UT), Tom Coburn (OK), and Voinovich, Republicans. Not present were Levin, Landrieu, McCaskill, and Paul G. Kirk, Jr. (MA), Democrats, and John McCain (AZ), John Ensign (NV), and Lindsey Graham (SC), Republicans. (Senate Report 111-102 [HTML,
The rationale for the amendment, which was added to the end of the bill as Section 6 (see Version #2 comparison), was explained in the Report:
OMB raised concerns that this legislation would lead to litigation. The Committee does not intend to create any individually enforceable right. Rather, it will be the responsibility of agencies, OMB, and Congress to ensure that the plain writing requirements are implemented. To address OMB's concern, Senator Akaka offered, and the Committee adopted, an amendment to add a new section 6 to the bill, specifying that there shall be no judicial review of compliance with the Act, and that the Act creates no right or benefit enforceable in any administrative or judicial action.
The Report also indicated that the following organizations sent or joined letters in support of plain writing requirements: the AARP, Disabled American Veterans, National Small Business Association, Small Business Legislative Council, Women Impacting Public Policy, National Association of the Self Employed, American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, Special Libraries Association, American Nurses Association, American Dental 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 111-102 [HTML,
(Senate Report 111-102 [HTML,
Budget Office Cost Estimate
On April 3, 2009, Congressional Budget Office director Douglas W. Elmendorf submitted to chairman Lieberman the CBO's cost estimate for the Plain Writing Act of 2009:
CBO estimates that implementing S. 574 would cost about $3 million a year for agencies to provide additional employee training and prepare reports for the Congress, 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 net increase in spending by those agencies would not be significant.
S. 574 Lingers in Senate
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. In addition, current laws such as the Paperwork Reduction Act, requires information collection forms to be `written using plain, coherent, and unambiguous terminology.' 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. 574 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.
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. 10070.)
On December 9, 2009, the bill was reported favorably, with amendment, by Committee chairman Sen. Lieberman; and S. 574 was placed on Senate Legislative Calendar No. 222 under General Orders. (Senate Report 111-102 [HTML,
PDF].) It would, however, never be acted on. But H.R. 946, the companion House bill that had been introduced shortly before the introduction of S. 574, would finally get its hearing in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (on March 4, 2010), ultimately leading to its passage. Let us, therefore, now look at the history behind the passage of H.R. 946.
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 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)
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)
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)
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)