November 5, 2007

NEWS: Junking Gov't Jargon

Congress Pursues 'Plain Language Standard'
House and Senate bills push to eliminate jargon from governmnent documents

by Miguel M. Morales

Soon the thousands of documents including forms used for federal financial aid, income tax, and Social Security could be easier to understand.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) introduced
S. 2291, a bill proposing to improve citizen access to government related information and services by establishing a "plain language" standard.

"Using plain language makes Government more transparent," Akaka said introducing the bill, Nov. 1. "The American people cannot hold their Government accountable if no one can understand the information that the Government provides about its actions and its requirements."

Akaka said the new standard would reduce citizen's complaints, confusion and need to retain professional advice for basic government forms and applications.

The bill would apply to new or substantially revised documents.
Government documents would include:
  • Federal tax forms
  • Veterans' benefit forms
  • Information for workers about Federal health, safety, overtime pay
  • Medical leave laws
  • Social Security and Medicare benefit forms
  • Federal college aid applications
"These documents help the American people obtain important Government benefits and improve their quality of life," Akaka said.

Sen. Clair McCaskill (D-MO) serves as a cosponsor of the bill.

"It is ridiculous that average Americans are having trouble understanding their tax forms and other government documents because they are written in complex legal jargon," McCaskill said. "This government is here to serve the people, so we need to start putting things in plain-language around here."

Rep. Bruce Braley (D- Iowa) introduced a similar bill, HR. 3548 (known as the Plain Language in Government Communications Act of 2007), to the House, Sept 17.

“Writing government documents in plain language will increase government accountability and will save Americans time and money," Braley said, Sept 20. "Plain, straightforward language makes it easy for taxpayers to understand what the federal government is doing and what services it is offering.
"I’m proud to introduce this bill to make it easier for Americans to work with and understand their government.”

The bill moved to the House Oversight and Reform's Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives on Oct. 1.

Related: The House and Senate are working on versions of the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007.