Congress Calls for Agencies to Simplify Language


Can federal government agencies replace bureaucratic language with plain English?

They may be forced to try under legislation that is moving through Congress. The translation of documents into plain language could be a lengthy process and one that will not come easily.

In a 376-1 vote Monday, the House passed a measure (HR 3548) that would require the federal government to use plain English, understandable to ordinary Americans, in all communications that explain how to file taxes or obtain government benefits or services.

A report from Congressional Quarterly noted that the government has tried several steps over the past few decades to encourage agencies to issue documents in plain language. Former Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton all issued executive orders requiring various government documents to be written in plain English, and agencies have launched their own initiatives.

But readers trying to figure out what the bureaucrats are saying still complain about impenetrable wording. So freshman Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, is trying to goad government writers with a bill that would put the no-jargon requirement into law.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved its version of the measure (S 2291) on April 10. It was sponsored by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii.

“There’s no reason why the federal government can’t write forms, letters, and other public documents in a way we can all understand,” Braley said. “It’s a simple change that’ll make a big difference for anyone who’s ever filled out a tax return, applied for a passport, received a letter from the Veterans Administration, or read a government document.”

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