Start Making Sense
A new law could force government agencies to clean up their language
By David A. Kolman, Senior Editor
Finally, the federal government has passed a piece of legislation that the entire trucking industry can get behind. It’s a groundbreaking law. However, it hasn’t garnered much attention.
A chief reason may be that the feds haven’t publicized this law very well, on purpose. Because if they did, they’d be admitting they have been doing something improper for many, many, many years. Can you recall the last time that has happened? I can’t.
This very significant federal legislation is the “Plain Writing Act of 2010” (H.R. 946). It was signed into law, without much fanfare, by the president in mid-October. The new law requires the federal government to write documents, forms and publicly distributed documents in a clear, concise, well-organized manner, using simple, easy-to-understand language.
Along with making government writing plainer and more comprehensible to the average person, the intent is to make government more transparent, increase its accountability and save millions of dollars. Who can’t get behind that?
I assume the bill itself was written in plain, clear language as most Congress critters understood the legislation. It passed the House by a vote of 341 to 82 and received unanimous consent in the Senate.
I’m keyed up about the “Plain Writing Act.” I have always been a firm believer, and supporter, of clear communication. When a message is convoluted, the chances of it being misinterpreted increase.
The new law will make a big difference for anyone who has ever filled out a tax return, received a government document, or attempted to complete a government form or application. Now, hopefully, a government by the people and for the people will be understood by the people.
This change won’t come easily and it will take time to get used to. No longer will we have to decipher governmentese and gobbledygook that overwhelms us with verbosity, technical terms, unfamiliar words and acronyms.
Under the new law, the sentence, “There is no escaping the fact that it is considered very important to note that a number of various available applicable studies have generally identified the fact that additional appropriate nocturnal employment could usually keep juvenile adolescents off thoroughfares, including, but not limited to, the time prior to midnight on weeknights and/or 2 a.m. on weekends,” might be reduced to a succinct: “Studies have found that more night jobs would keep youths off the streets.”
That’s 56 words down to just 13 words.
I’m looking forward to how the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will simplify the wording associated with Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 (CSA 2010).
Currently, FMCSA’s explanation of how CSA 2010 works reads: “CSA 2010 re-engineers the existing enforcement and compliance business process to provide a better view into how well large commercial motor vehicle (CMV) carriers and drivers are complying with safety rules, and to intervene earlier with those who are not. As the program is rolled out in 2010, FMCSA will establish a new enforcement and compliance Operational Model that will utilize its resources, and those of its State enforcement partners, more efficiently and effectively, making the roads even safer for everyone.”
I’m thinking this might be “simplified” for greater comprehendability, as required by the new law, to: “CSA 2010 has more roadway safety rules. If motor carriers and truck drivers break them, the consequences will be extreme. We’re watching you more closely now.”
Clearly, the inventive methodology spelled out in the unusual “Plain Writing Act of 2010” will be challenged by vertically-integrated facility activities and materiality that is overcapacitized with horizontalness and receptivity, along with various application-focused methods of word exchanging and communication conveyance.
More simply: The difficulty in language is not what is written but how it is written and what is meant.
I wish our federal government well in its movement toward plain language. Only time will tell if the new law will actually make a difference. There are no penalties for agencies or bureaucrats that continue to churn out indecipherable documents.