Plain language in federal regulation comes closer

Federal regulations can be a maze to navigate, but the federal government this week took further steps to streamlining jargon in an effort to make rules more accessible to citizens.

Writing on the OMBlog, Cass Sunstein, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, discussed the progress the government has made in breaking down complex and lofty language, thus making regulations more comprehensible. The concern, Sunstein said, is bipartisan and comes from businesses, public interest groups and “countless individual citizens.”

After President Barack Obama took office in 2010, he directed rules to be written in plain language to make them easy to understand. He also said regulations “shall be adopted through a process that involves public participation,” including an “open exchange of information and perspectives,” Sunstein writes.

After the passage of the Plain Writing Act of 2010, agencies began concentrated efforts to paring down rhetoric. Today, many agencies have a website dedicated to plain language and have tasked specific officials with overseeing plain writing efforts. 

Building on that effort to strip regulation language, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs on Jan 4 directed agencies to provide the public with straightforward executive summaries of all rules. With separate descriptions of all key provisions and policy choices, these summaries will detail the need for the rule and explain its legal basis.

“The use of clear, simple executive summaries will make it far easier for members of the public to understand and to scrutinize proposed rules – and thus help to improve them,” Sunstein wrote. “And for final rules, such summaries will make it far easier for people to understand what they are being asked to do."

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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