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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.

                                CONTENTS

                                                                   Page
Purpose and Summary..............................................     3
Background and Need for Legislation..............................     3
Legislative History..............................................     3
Section-By-Section...............................................     4
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 
  Committee......................................................     6
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 
following:

  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 
                Act;
                  (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 
                Act;
                  (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 
                        section 5.
          (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 
                        section 5.
  (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.
  (c) Guidance.--
          (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 
                subparagraph (A).

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 
Act.

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.

                          LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

    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-BY-SECTION

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 
        enforces.
    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 
its website.
    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 
guidelines.

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 
reviewable.

                        COMMITTEE CONSIDERATION

    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 
accommodations.

  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.

                         EARMARK IDENTIFICATION

    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.

                           COMMITTEE ESTIMATE

    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 
Pickford.
            Sincerely,
                                              Douglas W. Elmendorf.
    Enclosure.

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 
revenues.
    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 
governments.
    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 
differences.
    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.