(PDF provides a complete and accurate display of this text.)
109th Congress Report
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
2d Session 109-660
REGULATION IN PLAIN LANGUAGE ACT OF 2006
September 14, 2006.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on
the State of the Union and ordered to be printed
Mr. Tom Davis of Virginia, from the Committee on Government Reform,
submitted the following
R E P O R T
[To accompany H.R. 4809]
[Including cost estimate of the Congressional Budget Office]
The Committee on Government Reform, to whom was referred
the bill (H.R. 4809) to amend the provisions of chapter 35 of
title 44, United States Code, commonly referred to as the
Paperwork Reduction Act, to ensure usability and clarity of
information disseminated by Federal agencies, and to facilitate
compliance with Federal paperwork requirements, having
considered the same, report favorably thereon without amendment
and recommend that the bill do pass.
Committee Statement and Views.................................... 2
Explanation of Amendments........................................ 4
Committee Consideration.......................................... 4
Rollcall Votes................................................... 4
Application of Law to the Legislative Branch..................... 4
Statement of Oversight Findings and Recommendations of the
Statement of General Performance Goals and Objectives............ 5
Constitutional Authority Statement............................... 5
Federal Advisory Committee Act................................... 5
Unfunded Mandate Statement....................................... 5
Committee Estimate............................................... 5
Budget Authority and Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate... 6
Changes in Existing Law Made by the Bill, As Reported............ 6
Committee Statement and Views
PURPOSE AND SUMMARY
The Regulation in Plain Language Act of 2006 (H.R. 4809)
would require that agencies write regulations in plain,
understandable language. It would define best practices for
plain language writing. The legislation would require agencies
to identify a plain language coordinator, publish guidelines
for agency implementation, provide training to their employees,
and periodically report to Congress on their progress.
When regulations are written in plain, understandable
language it increases compliance, reduces implementation costs
for agencies, increases transparency in government, allows for
greater stakeholder input in the rulemaking process, and
enhances the public trust of government.
BACKGROUND AND NEED FOR LEGISLATION
James Madison wrote in the Federalist No. 62 that, ``It
will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made
by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that
they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be
understood.'' Since our founding, it has been recognized that
coherence and clarity in our laws, and later regulations, are
necessary for the creation of a strong republic.
The need for clarity in rulemaking is even greater today
because of the increase in the size of government and the
multitude of regulations that exist. The burden of Federal
regulations on the American public continues to grow. In a
report authored for the US Small Business Administration's
Office of Advocacy, Professor Mark Crain of Lafayette College
projected total off-budget regulatory costs for 2005 to be $1.1
trillion. Federal agencies that write, administer, and enforce
regulations spent $38.3 billion in 2005 and employed over
235,000 employees, as reported by the joint Weidenbaum Center
and Mercatus Center study. In 2005, the Federal Register
included 73,870 pages and published 3,943 new final rules.
Under this constant deluge of regulation, clear communication
is necessary to accomplish the goals of those rules.
The idea of using plain language in crafting regulations is
not new to the federal government. During the 1970s, President
Nixon encouraged the use of plain language when he ordered that
the Federal Register be written in ``layman's terms.''
President Carter issued Executive Orders that required
regulations to be ``easy-to-understand by those who were
required to comply with them.'' In 1993, President Clinton
issued Executive Order 12866 and ordered that agencies draft
their regulations ``to be simple and easy to understand with
the goal of minimizing the potential for uncertainty.'' It also
required agencies, when providing information to the public,
that it ``shall be in plain, understandable language.'' In 1998
he continued his efforts to incorporate plain language in
regulations by issuing a Presidential Memorandum that
formalized the requirement for federal employees to write in
plain language. The Memorandum stated the requirement clearly,
``the Federal Government's writing must be in plain language.
By using plain language, we send a clear message about what the
Government is doing, what it requires, and what services it
offers. Plain language saves the Government and the private
sector time, effort, and money.'' While the current
administration does not have a formal plain language
initiative, it does require agencies to follow the requirements
found in Executive Order 12866, including the use of plain
language. However, federal regulatory agencies continue to use
``bureaucratic prose'' and rarely try to incorporate plain
language in their documents.
On February 28, 2006, Chairwoman Candice Miller and Ranking
Member Stephen Lynch of the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs
introduced the Regulation in Plain Language Act (H.R. 4809). On
March 1, 2006, the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs held a
hearing entitled, ``Plain Language Regulations: Helping the
American Public Understand the Rules.'' Chairwoman Miller
described the benefits of using plain language including:
saving the government and the taxpayer time, effort, and money.
Federal agencies use of jargon, complex sentences, and
ambiguous terms leads to frustration, confusion, and often non-
compliance. She stated that ``you shouldn't have to be a lawyer
to apply for a small business loan.'' One of the witnesses,
Joseph Kimble, a professor at the Thomas Cooley School of Law
in Michigan testified to the many empirical studies
demonstrating the cost savings to businesses and government
when plain language is used in regulation and communication
with the public. One example he cited was of a rewritten U.S.
Department of Veterans Affairs letter to veterans. After it was
rewritten the number of calls to regional information centers
decreased from 1100 a year to less than 200. Dr. Annetta Cheek,
Vice-Chair of the Center for Plain Language, catalogued
examples of government forms, letters, and rules that have been
rewritten in plain language and the dramatic improvements in
clarity. She spoke strongly in favor of the benefits of H.R.
4809 and what it could do to create more positive change in the
federal government. The President of the National Small
Business Association, Todd McCracken, reminded the panel about
the disproportionate cost of compliance for small businesses.
Those costs often include hiring outside assistance to comply
with federal rules.
Before the benefits of plain language can be realized, H.R.
4809 needs to become law. In order for the federal government
to realize the cost savings in compliance assistance and non-
compliance and for businesses and taxpayers to reduce their
frustration and burden associated with compliance, additional
responsibilities for writing in plain language must be made
statutory for all federal agencies.
Representatives Candice Miller and Stephen Lynch introduced
the Regulation in Plain Language Act (H.R. 4809) on February
28, 2006. On March 1, 2006, the Subcommittee on Regulatory
Affairs held a hearing entitled, ``Plain Language Regulations:
Helping the American Public Understand the Rules'' to
investigate the need for legislation to improve the federal
government's performance in plain language writing and
communication of regulations.
On June 8, 2006, the Committee on Government Reform held a
mark up of the Regulation in Plain Language Act (H.R. 4809).
The Committee, with a quorum present, reported the bill
favorably by rollcall vote, unanimously.
Section 1. Short title
This section would provide that the bill be referenced as
the Regulation in Plain Language Act of 2006.
Section 2. Definitions
This section would define the words ``agency'' and
``regulation'' in their common and understood forms.
Section 3. Procedures for ensuring usability and clarity in rulemaking
Section 3(a) would amend provisions associated with the
Paperwork Reduction Act to include a definition of plain
language for the purposes of the bill. Plain language would be
defined as language that is clear and readily understandable to
the intended reader including: using short words, sentences,
and paragraphs; using active verbs; explaining complex or
technical terms; minimizing cross-references; using pictures,
tables and other visual tools; organizing the document
logically and chronologically; addressing separate audiences
separately; placing general material before exceptions; and
following other best practices of plain language writing.
Section 3(b) would identify responsibilities of federal
agencies to ensure regulations are written in plain language by
requiring them to identify an agency official to coordinate
these functions, to establish a process to implement these
requirements, and to publish their guidelines to achieve plain
language writing after consultation with other agencies and
stakeholders. This subsection would also require that agencies
provide training to their employees on plain language writing.
Agencies would also be required to report to the House
Committee on Government Reform and the Senate Committee on
Homeland Security & Government Affairs annually for the first 2
years upon enactment and once every 3 years after that on
implementation, consistency with other federal agency
guidelines, and examples of improvements made to regulations as
a result of their implementation of this law.
Explanation of Amendments
No amendments were adopted in Committee.
On June 8, 2006, the Committee met in open session and
ordered reported favorably the bill, H.R. 4809, by voice vote,
a quorum being present.
No rollcall votes were taken on H.R. 4809.
Application of Law to the Legislative Branch
Section 102(b)(3) of Public Law 104-1 requires a
description of the application of this bill to the legislative
branch where the bill relates to the terms and conditions of
employment or access to public services and accommodations.
This bill requires agencies to write regulations in plain,
understandable language. It defines best practices for plain
language writing. The legislation would require agencies to
identify a plain language coordinator, publish guidelines for
agency implementation, provide training to their employees, and
periodically report to Congress on their progress. As such this
bill does not relate to employment or access to public services
Legislative branch employees and their families, to the
extent that they are otherwise eligible for the benefits
provided by this legislation, have equal access to its
Statement of Oversight Findings and Recommendations of the Committee
In compliance with clause 3(c)(1) of rule XIII and clause
(2)(b)(1) of rule X of the Rules of the House of
Representatives, the Committee's oversight findings and
recommendations are reflected in the descriptive portions of
Statement of General Performance Goals and Objectives
In accordance with clause 3(c)(4) of rule XIII of the Rules
of the House of Representatives, the Committee's performance
goals and objectives are reflected in the descriptive portions
of this report.
Constitutional Authority Statement
Under clause 3(d)(1) of rule XIII of the Rules of the House
of Representatives, the Committee must include a statement
citing the specific powers granted to Congress to enact the law
proposed by H.R. 4809. Article I, Section 8, Clause 18 of the
Constitution of the United States grants the Congress the power
to enact this law.
Federal Advisory Committee Act
The Committee finds that the legislation does not establish
or authorize the establishment of an advisory committee within
the definition of 5 U.S.C. App., Section 5(b).
Unfunded Mandate Statement
Section 423 of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment
Control Act (as amended by Section 101(a)(2) of the Unfunded
Mandate Reform Act, P.L. 104-4) requires a statement whether
the provisions of the reported include unfunded mandates. In
compliance with this requirement the Committee has received a
letter from the Congressional Budget Office included herein.
Clause 3(d)(2) of rule XIII of the Rules of the House of
Representatives requires an estimate and a comparison by the
Committee of the costs that would be incurred in carrying out
H.R. 4809. However, clause 3(d)(3)(B) of that rule provides
that this requirement does not apply when the Committee has
included in its report a timely submitted cost estimate of the
bill prepared by the Director of the Congressional Budget
Office under section 402 of the Congressional Budget Act.
Budget Authority and Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate
With respect to the requirements of clause 3(c)(2) of rule
XIII of the Rules of the House of Representatives and section
308(a) of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 and with respect
to requirements of clause (3)(c)(3) of rule XIII of the Rules
of the House of Representatives and section 402 of the
Congressional Budget Act of 1974, the Committee has received
the following cost estimate for H.R. 4809 from the Director of
Congressional Budget Office:
June 20, 2006.
Hon. Tom Davis,
Chairman, Committee on Government Reform,
House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
Dear Mr. Chairman: The Congressional Budget Office has
prepared the enclosed cost estimate for H.R. 4809, the
Regulation in Plain Language Act of 2006.
If you wish further details on this estimate, we will be
pleased to provide them. The CBO staff contact is Matthew
Donald B. Marron,
H.R. 4809--Regulation in Plain Language Act of 2006
H.R. 4809 would amend the Paperwork Reduction Act to
require all federal agencies to ensure that regulations are
written in plain language--clear and readily understandable to
the intended reader. The legislation also would require each
agency to designate a coordinator for its efforts to use plain
language, establish a process to review compliance, publish
guidelines on the use of plain language, require training for
federal employees to use plain language, and provide regular
reports on compliance.
CBO estimates that implementing H.R. 4809 would cost less
than $500,000 a year, subject to the availability of
appropriated funds. 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 regulations in language that is comprehensible to
readers. Based on information from the Office of Management and
Budget, CBO estimates that implementing this bill would not
significantly increase the cost of preparing rulemaking
H.R. 4809 contains no intergovernmental or private-sector
mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act and
would have no effect on the budgets of state, local, or tribal
The CBO staff contact for this estimate is Matthew
Pickford. This estimate was approved by Peter H. Fontaine,
Deputy Assistant Director for Budget Analysis.
Changes in Existing Law Made by the Bill, as Reported
In compliance with clause 3(e) of rule XIII of the Rules of
the House of Representatives, changes in existing law made by
the bill, as reported, are shown as follows (existing law
proposed to be omitted is enclosed in black brackets, new
matter is printed in italic, existing law in which no change is
proposed is shown in roman):
TITLE 44, UNITED STATES CODE
* * * * * * *
CHAPTER 35--COORDINATION OF FEDERAL INFORMATION POLICY
SUBCHAPTER I--FEDERAL INFORMATION POLICY
* * * * * * *
Sec. 3502. Definitions
As used in this subchapter--
(1) * * *
* * * * * * *
(13) the term ``recordkeeping requirement'' means a
requirement imposed by or for an agency on persons to
maintain specified records, including a requirement
(A) * * *
* * * * * * *
(D) report to third parties, the Federal
Government, or the public regarding such
(14) the term ``penalty'' includes the imposition by
an agency or court of a fine or other punishment; a
judgment for monetary damages or equitable relief; or
the revocation, suspension, reduction, or denial of a
license, privilege, right, grant, or benefit[.]; and
(15) the term ``plain language'' means language that
is clear and readily understandable to the intended
reader and complies with the following standards:
(A) Uses short words, sentences, and
(B) Uses active verbs.
(C) Contains explanations of legal, foreign,
and technical terms, unless the terms are
(D) Avoids defining terms that are commonly
(E) Uses personal pronouns to refer to
affected persons and the responsible agency if
helpful to improve clarity.
(F) Minimizes cross-references.
(G) Avoids sentences with double negatives or
exceptions to exceptions.
(H) Uses tables, diagrams, pictures, maps,
and vertical lists to improve clarity.
(I) Demonstrates logical organization.
(J) Addresses separate audiences separately.
(K) Places general material before exceptions
and specialized information.
(L) Addresses processes covered by a rule in
(M) Follows other best practices of plain
* * * * * * *
Sec. 3506. Federal agency responsibilities
(a) * * *
* * * * * * *
(d) With respect to information dissemination, each agency
(1) * * *
* * * * * * *
(3) provide adequate notice when initiating,
substantially modifying, or terminating significant
information dissemination products; [and]
(4) not, except where specifically authorized by
(A) * * *
* * * * * * *
(D) establish user fees for public
information that exceed the cost of
(5) ensure that regulations are written in plain,
understandable language consistent with the definition
of ``plain language'' in section 3502(15) of this
(A) designating an agency official as plain
(B) establishing a process for reviewing each
regulation to ensure its compliance with this
paragraph before publishing it in the Federal
(C) publishing guidelines to implement this
(i) not later than 120 days after the
date of the enactment of this
(ii) after consulting with other
Federal agencies and the Interagency
Committee on Government Information to
promote consistency of application
between agencies; and
(iii) after consulting with affected
(D) training employees who write regulations
to write in plain language;
(E) reporting to the Committee on Government
Reform of the House of Representatives and the
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental
Affairs of the Senate annually for the first 2
years after the date of the enactment of this
paragraph and once every 3 years thereafter on
compliance with this paragraph, including--
(i) agency implementation of its
(ii) agency actions to ensure
consistency with other Federal agency
(iii) examples of some of the changes
made to draft regulations in the
previous year to conform with this
* * * * * * *