OMB issues preliminary guidance on plain writing in government

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OMB issues preliminary guidance on plain writing in government

Congress and OMB want government communications to be clearer, more concise, better organized, and more useful to the public.  Last month the president signed into law the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which Congress passed “to improve the effectiveness and accountability of Federal agencies to the public by promoting clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.”  This act requires OMB to develop guidance for federal agencies to implement the provisions of the Act.  This week, OMB issued preliminary guidance that set the groundwork for writing government documents in plain language.  According to the guidance (issued in a memo from Cass Sunstein, Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs), plain writing is defined as being “concise, simple, meaningful, and well organized.”  Further, Cass advised agencies to avoid “jargon, redundancy, ambiguity, and obscurity” and should not be unnecessary complex.  The memo called plain writing essential to open government and key to the government’s commitment to increase transparency and public participation.  The guidance designates an interagency working group, the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) to assist agencies in developing necessary guidance.  Each agency must designate responsible individuals to implement the requirements and oversee related agency regulations and policies.  The Plain Writing Act applies to documents that:  1) are required to obtain a Federal Government benefit or service; 2) provide information on Federal Government benefits or services; or 3) instruct the public how to comply with a Federal Government administered or enforced requirement.  While technical documents should consider the intended audience, they should also follow plain writing guidance.  Each agency must also set up a plain writing section of its website that informs the public how the agency is complying with the requirements of the Plain Writing Act.  OMB will issue final guidance by April 13, 2011, but agencies should begin meeting requirements using the preliminary guidance.

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