Senate passed bill to 'stop the government speak' in agency documents

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) co-sponsored legislation to expand plain language requirements for certain federal agency information.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) co-sponsored legislation to expand plain language requirements for certain federal agency information. Pool/Getty Images

The proposal would expand and update an existing law on plain language requirements for agencies.

The Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan bill on Wednesday to override an existing law and update requirements for government agencies to write communications in easy-to-understand language.

Specifically, the Clear and Concise Content Act, backed by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chair Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), zeroes in on the use of plain writing in government content about benefits and services or filing taxes, provided on paper or digitally. 

“This bill does exactly what its name implies – it makes government communications easier to understand,” said Peters in a statement.

“Stop the ‘government speak,’” said Lankford in a statement. “Federal agencies don’t need to use jargon, countless legal citations and confusing references to laws so only ‘insiders’ can understand.”

The bill defines plain writing as “writing that is clear, concise, well-organized” and follows best practices to make the content understandable to an audience, “including an audience who may be disabled, may not be proficient in English or may otherwise be disadvantaged or traditionally underserved.”

If passed, the bill would repeal current plain language law, the Plain Writing Act of 2010, a year from now. 

The change would expand what government content is covered under the 2010 law – namely “any document that is necessary for obtaining any federal benefit or service or filing taxes, that provides information about any federal benefit or service or that explains to the public how to comply with a requirement the federal government administers or enforces” – while adding new data reporting requirements.

The new bill would apply plain language to any operations, policies or guidance of an agency “that are of material importance to the agency and are posted publicly by the agency,” as well as information on how to interact with or provide feedback to an agency.

The Office of Management and Budget would be charged with rescinding current guidance and issuing new guidance that would also include metrics to judge compliance and require agencies to get public feedback on their compliance with the law and test their content regularly, and OMB would be required to report publicly to Congress annually on implementation.

So far, the bill has no House counterpart. 

In addition to Congress, the White House has previously taken an interest in adopting more concise language. 

Executive orders from 1993 and 2011 broached the idea of plain language, with the latter noting that government regulations — a type of government communication the current plain language law and new bill don’t address — should also be clear and understandable. 

More recently, an executive order issued by the Biden administration last year on customer service tasked agencies with looking for ways to improve their compliance with the Plain Writing Act.

Within the executive branch, an unfunded Plain Language and Information Network has been meeting since the 1990s, running training sessions for agencies and managing a community of practice.

“Plain language means readers understand your documents more quickly. Readers call less often for explanations. They make fewer errors filling out forms. They comply more accurately and quickly with requirements,” the group’s website says. “Plain language writing saves time. If we save time, we save money. Plain language is good customer service and makes life easier for the public.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.