Plain Writing Act Annual Compliance Report — 2014
The Plain Writing Act of 2010 (the Act) requires federal agencies to write "clear Government communication that the public can understand and use." President Obama also emphasized the importance of establishing "a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration" in his January 21, 2009, Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government.
The U.S. Department of Labor (the Department) is committed to complying with the Act. The Department has established a Plain Writing website (www.dol.gov/dol/PlainWriting/) that includes an overview of the Act and its requirements, documents that are covered, and timeframes associated with compliance with the Act.
Plain Language Coordinators
Plain Language Coordinators in each agency within the Department have been identified and their contact information is available on the Department's Plain Writing website. These coordinators are responsible for ensuring each agency's compliance with the Act's requirements and answering questions from the public about their agencies documents or plain writing practices. In addition, general questions about the Department's implementation of the Plain Writing Act can be addressed to the Department's Senior Plain Language Official.
Plain Language Training
In May 2012, the Department began requiring that all new employees take the training within 90-days of joining the Department and that all employees take an on-line plain writing training every three years. By July 31, 2012, over 85 percent of the Department's employees and contractors had taken the training and received a Plain Writing Education and Training Certificate. Between October 1, 2013 and April 30, 2014, plain writing training had been offered to over 1,050 new DOL employees and contractors. In addition to the on-line course, the Department regularly provides a two-day effective writing course for employees and contractors desiring or requiring more in-depth training.
Plain Language Resources
Some agencies within the Department have adopted their own plain writing polices to further the objectives of the Plain Writing Act. For example, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has developed a Style Guide as an easy to use reference for composing correspondence, agency directives, and other written work products in plain language. OFCCP is in the process of updating its Style Guide and once completed, the Department will to post the Style Guide on the Department's intranet site as a resource for all employees and contractors.
The Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) has instituted an internal review process for all outgoing correspondence to ensure clear, plain language is used when communicating to the public. In addition, VETS is in the process of revising its agency Style Guide to incorporate the requirements of the Plain Writing Act. The Office of Disability Employment Policy continues to require that all written communications be reviewed by either its Supervisor for the Division of Policy Communication and Outreach or its Executive Officer. A critical part of their review is ensuring that written products are in plain language. The Bureau of Labor Statistics currently evaluates documents before publication to make sure they are written at the appropriate reading level for the target audience.
To further advance the concept of plain writing into daily DOL activities, a member of the DOL plain writing team also participates in The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN), a group of federal employees from many different agencies and specialties who support the use of clear communication in government writing. (This organization has been in existence since the mid-1990s). PLAIN meets periodically to exchange ideas and members communicate via e-mail to pose questions to each other regarding ways to modify passages in documents so that they provide clear communication to the public. The DOL Plain Writing Implementation Plan requires that at least one member of DOL's plain writing team participates in PLAIN.
In response to the Department's prior year grade from the Center for Plain Language's assessment of writing samples for various measures of plain language effectiveness, the Department has intensified its efforts to ensure that agencies are using plain language in public documents. The Department's Plain Language Senior Official will meet with the agency officials to convey the Department's commitment to the principles of plain writing. The Plain Language Senior Official continues to monitor agencies plain writing efforts, and as required, work with agencies to incorporate plain writing into public documents.
DOL Customer Service Initiative
On March 12, 2014, the Department sponsored a "Plain Language and the Customer Experience" community of practice event featuring Dr. Annetta Cheek of the Center for Plain Language, and representatives from the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Presenters discussed proven practices related to initiating and sustaining plain-language programs within government agencies, and shared examples of the benefits of plain language initiatives within their respective programs. Over 100 employees from the Department representing nearly all agencies participated in the event. The Department plans to meet with Rebecca Gholson, Dr. Cheek's successor, or a member of the Center's Board of Directors again later this year to discuss specific actions the Department can take to continue to improve implementation of plain writing initiatives. The Department is steadfast in its commitment to monitor and improve agency Plain Language programs and best practices.