Final Guidance on Implementing the Plain Writing Act

June 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

In April, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued Memorandum M-11-15: Final Guidance on Implementing the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which became law on October 13, 2010. The purpose of the Plain Writing Act of 2010 (hereafter the Act) is to implement plain writing standards within federal agencies to ensure government documents are written in a clear, concise, and well-organized manner. This final guidance on implementing the Act rescinds and replaces previous guidance issued by OMB in November 2010 in Memorandum M-11-05: Preliminary Guidance for the Plain Writing Act of 2010 and outlines agency requirements and deadlines for implementing the Plain Writing Act.In implementing the Act, agencies should meet the following deadlines:

  • By July 13, 2011, agencies should:
    • Designate Senior Official(s) for Plain Writing: Each agency must designate one or more senior officials who are responsible for overseeing the agency’s implementation of the Act and guidance and have cross-cutting responsibilities within the agency; oversee agency programs, personnel, technology, regulations, or policy; and are involved in agency communications
    • Establish Plain Writing Webpage: Each agency must create and maintain a plain writing section on the agency’s website that is accessible from the agency’s homepage and informs the public of the agency’s compliance with the requirements of the Act as well as allows the public to provide comments and suggestions
    • Publish Implementation Report: Each agency must publish an initial implementation report that describes the agency’s plan for implementing the requirements of the Act on the agency’s website with a means for stakeholders and the public to provide comments
  • By October 13, 2011, each agency should use plain writing when issuing documents covered by the Act, including documents:
    • Necessary for obtaining any federal government benefit or service
    • Providing information about any federal government benefit or service
    • Explaining how to comply with a requirement that the federal government administers or enforces
  • By April 13, 2012, each agency should submit its first annual compliance report and annually thereafter. The report should be published on the agency’s website and describe the agency’s continuing compliance with the Act. In addition, the agency should solicit feedback from the public and stakeholders prior to publication of the report and address substantive comments in the report.

According to the final guidance, agencies should work with the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN), the official plain writing-related interagency working group, to identify if their agency has a representative on PLAIN who can help implement the Act at their agency. Agencies should also use the Federal Plain Language Guidelines available on the Plain Language website: http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/guidelines/bigdoc/TOC.cfm.

Plain writing is essential to the successful achievement of the Administration’s goal of establishing “a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.” Once implementation is complete, the public will have a better understanding of and ability to apply for important benefits and services offered by the federal government. Other benefits include an improved public understanding of government communications and agency requirements; increased efficiency; and reduced need for the public to seek clarification from agency staff.

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