[Congressional Record: March 11, 2009 (Senate)]
[Page S3032-S3033]


      By Mr. AKAKA (for himself, Mr. Voinovich, Mr. Carper, Mr. Levin, 
        Mrs. McCaskill, and Mr. Tester):
  S. 574. A bill 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; to the 
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
  Mr. AKAKA. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Plain Writing 
Act of 2009. I am pleased that Senators George Voinovich, Tom Carper 
Carl Levin, Claire McCaskill, and Jon Tester have joined as original 
co-sponsors of this legislation.
  Our bill is very similar to H.R. 946, introduced by Representative 
Bruce Braley last month.
  The Plain Writing Act has a simple purpose: it would require the 
Federal Government to write more clearly. Agencies would be required to 
write documents that are released to the public in a way that is clear, 
concise, well-organized, readily understandable.
  This bill would extend an initiative that President Bill Clinton and 
Vice President Al Gore started a decade ago as part of the Reinventing 
Government initiative. In 1998, President Clinton directed agencies to 
write in plain language. Although many agencies have made progress in 
writing more clearly, the requirement never was fully implemented. In 
recent years, the focus on plain writing has dropped. This legislation 
will renew that focus.
  There are many benefits to plain writing. First, it promotes 
transparency and accountability. It is very difficult to hold the 
Federal Government accountable for its actions if only lawyers can 
understand Government writing. As we face an economic crisis and 
unprecedented budget deficits, the American people need clear 
explanations of Government actions.
  Plain writing also improves customer service. Individuals and 
businesses waste time and money, and make unnecessary errors, because 
Government instructions, forms, and other documents are too 
complicated. Anyone who has filled out their own tax forms, 
applications for Federal financial aid or veterans' benefits, Medicare 
forms, or any number of other overly complicated Federal forms 
understands the need for plain writing.
  Government officials, in turn, spend time and money answering 
questions and addressing complaints from people frustrated with 
Government documents they cannot understand. Correcting the errors 
people make because they do not understand Government documents demands 
Government officials' time as well. Because of this, plain writing 
makes Government more efficient and effective.
  Numerous organizations have called on Congress to require the Federal 
Government to write more clearly, including the AARP, Disabled American 
Veterans, National Small Business Association, Small Business 
Legislative Council, Women Impacting Public Policy, American Nurses 
Association, American Library Association, American Association of Law 
Libraries, and several associations dedicated to promoting better 
communication. These groups support plain writing because their members 
complain about their frustration with trying to understand Government 
documents--or hiring attorneys to decipher them--and the time and money 
they waste because the Government does not write plainly.
  As a former teacher and principal, I understand that even very smart 
people must be trained to write plainly, so this bill recognizes that 
Federal Employees will need plain writing training. Each agency will 
report their plans to train employees in plain writing. Writing in 
plain, clear, concise, and easily understandable language is a skill 
that Congress and Federal agencies must foster. As Thomas Jefferson 
once said, ``The most valuable of all talents is that of never using 
two words when one will do.''
  Additionally, congressional oversight will ensure that agencies 
implement the plain language requirements. Agencies will be required to 
designate a senior official responsible for implementing plain language 
requirements and to report to Congress how it will ensure compliance 
with the plain language requirement and on its progress.
  To avoid imposing too great a burden on agencies, agencies will not 
be required to rewrite existing documents. Only new or substantially 
revised documents will be covered. Similarly, this bill does not cover 
regulations, so that agencies can focus first on improving their every 
day communications with the American people. We recognize that it will 
be more challenging to write plainly when crafting regulations, which 
often must be technical and complex.
  Requiring plain writing is an important step in improving the way the 
Federal Government communicates with the American people.
  Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be 
printed in the Record.
  There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be 
placed in the Record, as follows:

                                 S. 574

       Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of 
     the United States of America in Congress assembled,


       This Act may be cited as the ``Plain Writing Act of 2009''.

     SEC. 2. PURPOSE.

       The purpose of this Act is to improve the effectiveness and 
     accountability of Federal agencies to the public by promoting 

[[Page S3033]]

     Government communication that the public can understand and 


       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'' means 
     any document (other than a regulation) issued by an agency to 
     the public, including documents and other text released in 
     electronic form.
       (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.


       (a) Requirement to Use Plain Writing in New Documents.--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 issued or substantially revised.
       (b) Guidance.--
       (1) In general.--
       (A) Development.--Not later than 6 months after the date of 
     enactment of this Act, the Office of Management and Budget 
     shall develop guidance on implementing the requirements of 
     subsection (a).
       (B) Issuance.--The Office of Management and Budget shall 
     issue the guidance developed under subpargraph (A) to 
     agencies as a circular.
       (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 under subparagraph 


       (a) Initial Report.--Not later than 6 months after the date 
     of enactment of this Act, the head of each agency shall 
     submit to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental 
     Affairs of the Senate and the Committee on Oversight and 
     Government Reform of the House of Representatives a report 
     that describes how the agency intends to meet the following 
       (1) Communicating the requirements of this Act to agency 
       (2) Training agency employees in plain writing.
       (3) Meeting the requirement under section 4(a).
       (4) Ensuring ongoing compliance with the requirements of 
     this Act.
       (5) Designating a senior official to be responsible for 
     implementing the requirements of this Act.
       (b) Annual and Other Reports.--
       (1) Agency reports.--
       (A) In general.--The head of each agency shall submit 
     reports on compliance with this Act to the Office of 
     Management and Budget.
       (B) Submission dates.--The Office of Management and Budget 
     shall notify each agency of the date each report under 
     subparagraph (A) is required for submission to enable the 
     Office of Management and Budget to meet the requirements of 
     paragraph (2).
       (2) Reports to congress.--The Office of Management and 
     Budget shall review agency reports submitted under paragraph 
     (1) using the guidance issued under section 4(b)(1)(B) and 
     submit a report on the progress of agencies to the Committee 
     on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the Senate 
     and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform of the 
     House of Representatives--
       (A) annually for the first 2 years after the date of 
     enactment of this Act; and
       (B) once every 3 years thereafter.