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111th Congress Report
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
2d Session 111-432
PLAIN WRITING ACT OF 2010
March 11, 2010.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the
State of the Union and ordered to be printed
Mr. Towns, from the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,
submitted the following
R E P O R T
[To accompany H.R. 946]
[Including cost estimate of the Congressional Budget Office]
The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to whom
was referred the bill (H.R. 946) 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, having considered the same,
report favorably thereon with an amendment and recommend that
the bill as amended do pass.
Purpose and Summary.............................................. 3
Background and Need for Legislation.............................. 3
Legislative History.............................................. 3
Explanation of Amendments........................................ 6
Committee Consideration.......................................... 6
Roll Call Votes.................................................. 6
Application Of Law To The Legislative Branch..................... 6
Statement of Oversight Findings and Recommendations of the
Statement of General Performance Goals and Objectives............ 7
Constitutional Authority Statement............................... 7
Federal Advisory Committee Act................................... 7
Unfunded Mandate Statement....................................... 7
Earmark Identification........................................... 7
Committee Estimate............................................... 7
Budget Authority and Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate... 7
Changes in Existing Law Made by the Bill, as Reported............ 9
The amendment is as follows:
Strike all after the enacting clause and insert the
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the ``Plain Writing Act of 2010''.
SEC. 2. PURPOSE.
The purpose of this Act is to improve the effectiveness and
accountability of Federal agencies to the public by promoting clear
Government communication that the public can understand and use.
SEC. 3. DEFINITIONS.
In this Act:
(1) Agency.--The term ``agency'' means an Executive agency,
as defined under section 105 of title 5, United States Code.
(2) Covered document.--The term ``covered document''--
(A) means any document that--
(i) is relevant to obtaining any Federal
Government benefit or service or filing taxes;
(ii) provides information about any Federal
Government benefit or service; or
(iii) explains to the public how to comply
with a requirement the Federal Government
administers or enforces;
(B) includes (whether in paper or electronic form) a
letter, publication, form, notice, or instruction; and
(C) does not include a regulation.
(3) Plain writing.--The term ``plain writing'' means writing
that the intended audience can readily understand and use
because that writing is clear, concise, well-organized, and
follows other best practices of plain writing.
SEC. 4. RESPONSIBILITIES OF FEDERAL AGENCIES.
(a) Preparation for Implementation of Plain Writing Requirements.--
(1) In general.--Not later than 9 months after the date of
enactment of this Act, the head of each agency shall--
(A) designate 1 or more senior officials within the
agency to oversee the agency implementation of this
(B) communicate the requirements of this Act to the
employees of the agency;
(C) train employees of the agency in plain writing;
(D) establish a process for overseeing the ongoing
compliance of the agency with the requirements of this
(E) create and maintain a plain writing section of
the agency's website that is accessible from the
homepage of the agency's website; and
(F) designate 1 or more agency points-of-contact to
receive and respond to public input on--
(i) agency implementation of this Act; and
(ii) the agency reports required under
(2) Website.--The plain writing section described under
paragraph (1)(E) shall--
(A) inform the public of agency compliance with the
requirements of this Act; and
(B) provide a mechanism for the agency to receive and
respond to public input on--
(i) agency implementation of this Act; and
(ii) the agency reports required under
(b) Requirement to Use Plain Writing in New Documents.--Beginning not
later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, each agency
shall use plain writing in every covered document of the agency that
the agency issues or substantially revises.
(1) In general.--Not later than 6 months after the date of
enactment of this Act, the Director of the Office of Management
and Budget shall develop and issue guidance on implementing the
requirements of this section. The Director may designate a lead
agency, and may use interagency working groups to assist in
developing and issuing the guidance.
(2) Interim guidance.--Before the issuance of guidance under
paragraph (1), agencies may follow the guidance of--
(A) the writing guidelines developed by the Plain
Language Action and Information Network; or
(B) guidance provided by the head of the agency that
is consistent with the guidelines referred to in
SEC. 5. REPORTS TO CONGRESS.
(a) Initial Report.--Not later than 9 months after the date of
enactment of this Act, the head of each agency shall publish on the
plain writing section of the agency's website a report that describes
the agency plan for compliance with the requirements of this Act.
(b) Annual Compliance Report.--Not later than 18 months after the
date of enactment of this Act, and annually thereafter, the head of
each agency shall publish on the plain writing section of the agency's
website a report on agency compliance with the requirements of this
SEC. 6. JUDICIAL REVIEW AND ENFORCEABILITY.
(a) Judicial Review.--There shall be no judicial review of compliance
or noncompliance with any provision of this Act.
(b) Enforceability.--No provision of this Act shall be construed to
create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable by
any administrative or judicial action.
PURPOSE AND SUMMARY
H.R. 946, the Plain Language Act of 2009, was introduced on
February 10, 2009, by Rep. Bruce Braley. H.R. 946 improves the
transparency and accountability of the federal government by
requiring federal agencies to use plain language in many
government documents and by requiring agencies to take actions
such as training employees how to write in plain language.
BACKGROUND AND NEED FOR LEGISLATION
Government documents are often complex and can be difficult
to understand if they are not written clearly. There have been
sporadic efforts over the years to encourage agencies to use
plain language in public documents. President Carter issued
Executive Order 12174 in 1979 that encouraged agencies to draft
forms ``to elicit information in a simple, straightforward
fashion.'' In 1998, President Clinton issued a memorandum that,
in part, required federal agencies to use plain language in all
documents that explain how to obtain a benefit or service or
how to comply with a requirement administered or enforced by
the agency. This memorandum stated that ``[b]y 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.''
A few agencies still maintain plain language programs but
efforts to promote plain language have waned. H.R. 946 requires
many government documents to be in plain language. The bill
ensures that many of the letters, forms, and other documents
that people receive from the government will be written in a
clear, understandable way. Under this bill, for example, the
Social Security Administration will be required to use plain
language in letters that provide beneficiaries information
about Social Security. The IRS will be required to write tax
forms in plain language. Making these documents easier to
understand will make it easier for Americans to comply with
requirements imposed by the government and to take advantage of
benefits provided by the government.
A similar bill, H.R. 3548, was introduced on September 17,
2007, and referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government
Reform. The Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and
National Archives considered H.R. 3548 on January 29, 2008, and
approved the bill by voice vote. The Committee considered H.R.
3548 on March 13, 2008, and ordered H.R. 3548 reported
favorably, as amended, by voice vote. H.R. 3548 passed the
House on April 14, 2008, by a vote of 376-1.
H.R. 946 was introduced on February 10, 2009, and referred
to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The
Committee considered H.R. 946 on March 4, 2010, and ordered the
bill reported favorably, as amended, by voice vote.
Section 1. Short title
This section provides that the short title of H.R. 946 is
the ``Plain Writing Act of 2010.''
Section 2. Purpose
This section identifies the purpose of the Act which is to
improve the effectiveness and accountability of federal
agencies to the public by promoting clear government
communication that the public can understand and use.
Section 3. Definitions
This section includes the following definitions:
The term ``agency'' means an Executive department, a
government corporation, and an independent establishment.
The term ``covered document'' means a letter, publication,
form, notice or instruction that:
(1) is relevant to obtaining any federal government
benefit or service or filing taxes;
(2) provides information about any federal government
benefit or service; or
(3) explains to the public how to comply with a
requirement the federal government administers or
The term covered document includes documents in both
electronic and paper form. It does not include regulations. The
bill as introduced defined covered document as any document
issued by an agency to the public except regulations. The Towns
amendment, adopted during Committee consideration, narrowed the
scope of documents covered by the bill to ensure that agencies
focus on documents Americans are most likely to encounter. The
new definition includes documents that explain to the public
how to comply with a federal requirement. The Committee intends
this to include agency guidance documents. However, the
Committee recognizes that some guidance documents must include
technical or legal terminology in order to accurately describe
a statutory or regulatory requirement. As described below,
plain writing should be used in a way that meets the needs of
the intended audience.
The term ``plain writing'' means writing that the intended
audience can readily understand and use because it is clear,
concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices of
plain writing. The bill as introduced used the term ``plain
language.'' The Towns amendment replaced the term plain
language with plain writing throughout the bill. The term is
intended to have the same meaning as the term plain language.
Section 4. Responsibilities of federal agencies
Subsection (a) requires each agency, within nine months of
enactment, to perform a number of actions. Agencies must
designate one or more senior officials to oversee
implementation, communicate the requirements of the Act to
employees, train employees, establish a process for overseeing
compliance, maintain a plain writing section of the agency's
website, and designate one or more points-of-contact to receive
and respond to public input. Each agency must include in the
plain writing section of its website information about the
agency's implementation of the Act and a way for the agency to
receive and respond to public input on agency implementation
and reports the agency issues on plain writing.
The bill as introduced required agencies to report on some
of the actions described. The Towns amendment added an
affirmative requirement that agencies perform these actions
rather than just reporting on what the agency has done. The
Towns amendment also added the requirement that each agency
make information about its plain writing efforts available on
Subsection (b) requires each agency, within one year of
enactment, to use plain writing in every covered document of
the agency that the agency issues or substantially revises. The
Committee intends for agencies to implement the Act in a manner
that takes into account the unique requirements and needs of
the agency in carrying out its mission.
Subsection (c) requires the director of the Office of
Management and Budget (OMB) to develop and issue guidance
within six months of enactment on implementing this section.
The bill as introduced required OMB to issue this guidance as a
circular. The Towns amendment did not include this requirement
in order to ensure OMB has the flexibility to issue guidance in
the most effective and appropriate form.
The Towns amendment gave OMB the authority under subsection
(c) to designate a lead agency to coordinate this effort and to
use interagency working groups to assist in developing the
guidance. The Committee believes OMB should utilize interagency
groups to provide input on developing guidance and to provide
feedback on draft guidance. OMB should reach out in particular
to the agencies that would likely issue larger numbers of
covered documents. This subsection also provides that prior to
OMB's guidance, agencies may follow the guidelines of the Plain
Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) or guidance
provided by the agency head if it is consistent with the PLAIN
Section 5. Reports to Congress
Subsection (a) requires the head of each agency, within
nine months of enactment, to publish on the plain writing
section of the agency's website a report that describes the
agency plan for compliance with the requirements of this Act.
Subsection (b) requires the head of each agency to publish
on the plain writing section of the agency's website a report
on agency compliance with the Act within 18 months of enactment
and once each following year.
The Towns amendment changed the reporting requirements in
this section to require agency reports to be published online
rather than just being sent to Congress.
Section 6. Judicial review and enforceability
Subsection (a) clarifies that the Act does not provide for
judicial review of compliance or noncompliance with any
provision in the Act.
Subsection (b) provides that no provision of the Act shall
be construed to create any right or benefit.
This section was added to the bill during Committee
consideration by the Towns amendment.
EXPLANATION OF AMENDMENTS
The following amendments were adopted in Committee:
Chairman Towns offered an amendment in the nature of a
substitute that passed by voice vote. The Towns amendment makes
a number of changes to the bill. The amendment focuses the
scope of the bill on the documents most in need of attention.
As introduced, H.R. 946 covered any document issued by an
agency to the public except regulations. The Towns amendment
covers those documents described under the term ``covered
documents'' in section 3 in the section-by-section. Examples of
the kinds of documents the amendment is intended to cover
include IRS tax forms and instructions and forms for Social
Security and Medicare benefits. The Towns amendment requires
that OMB issue guidelines to agencies within six months and
requires that each agency make information about the agency's
compliance with the Act available on the agency's website. The
amendment also clarifies that the Act is not judicially
On Thursday, March 4, 2010, the Committee met in open
session and ordered H.R. 946 reported favorably to the House by
a voice vote.
ROLL CALL VOTES
No roll call votes were held.
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 terms and conditions of
employment or access to public services and accommodations.
H.R. 946 requires executive branch agencies to use plain
writing in certain government documents. This bill does not
relate to employment or access to public services and
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 this report, including
the need for federal agencies to write government documents in
a manner that is clear and readily understood.
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, including improving the accountability and
accessibility of the federal government by requiring agencies
to use plain writing in certain government documents.
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. 946. 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
Mandates Reform Act, P.L. 104-4) requires a statement on
whether the provisions of the report include unfunded mandates.
In compliance with this requirement the Committee has received
a letter from the Congressional Budget Office included herein.
H.R. 946 does not include any congressional earmarks,
limited tax benefits, or limited tariff benefits as defined in
clause 9(e), 9(f), or 9(g) of rule XXI.
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. 946. 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. 946 from the Director of
the Congressional Budget Office:
March 9, 2010.
Hon. Edolphus Towns,
Chairman, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,
House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
Dear Mr. Chairman: The Congressional Budget Office has
prepared the enclosed cost estimate for H.R. 946, the Plain
Language Act of 2009.
If you wish further details on this estimate, we will be
pleased to provide them. The CBO staff contact is Matthew
Douglas W. Elmendorf.
H.R. 946--Plain Language Act of 2009
H.R. 946 would amend federal law to require all federal
agencies within one year to use plain language (defined as
language that is clear and readily identifiable to the intended
reader) in all documents, including letters, publications, and
forms. The legislation also would require the Office of
Management and Budget (OMB) to provide governmentwide guidance
on this matter. Finally, H.R. 946 would require each agency to
designate a coordinator for its efforts to use plain language,
establish an agency Internet site related to those efforts,
review its compliance with the legislation, train employees to
use plain language, and prepare reports to the Congress on
compliance with the legislation.
CBO estimates that implementing H.R. 946 would cost about
$5 million a year for agencies to implement the additional
employee training and reporting requirements, subject to
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; therefore, pay-as-you-go
procedures would apply. CBO estimates, however, that any net
increase in spending by those agencies would not be
significant. Enacting the legislation would not affect
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. 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.
H.R. 946 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
On April 3, 2009, CBO transmitted a cost estimate for S.
574, the Plain Writing Act of 2009, as ordered reported by the
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
on April 1, 2009. Both pieces of legislation are similar in
that they require federal agencies to use plain language in all
documents, but H.R. 946 creates additional requirements on
government agencies. CBO's cost estimates reflect those
The CBO staff contact for this estimate is Matthew
Pickford. This estimate was approved by Theresa Gullo, Deputy
Assistant Director for Budget Analysis.
CHANGES IN EXISTING LAW MADE BY THE BILL, AS REPORTED
There are no changes to existing law in this bill.