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Public access advocates hail Akaka's bid for plain prose


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POSTED: Friday, April 10, 2009

Washington » The price of clear writing in government documents: $3 million a year.

That's what it would cost for the U.S. government to train employees in using plain language and prepare progress reports to Congress on the effort, according to a report issued by the Congressional Budget Office and posted on its Web site.

The nonpartisan agency estimated the cost to comply with the Plain Writing Act sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka. The Hawaii Democrat's legislation would require federal agencies to practice “;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.”;

The bill was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on a voice vote April 1, according to the panel's Web site. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House by Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa.

The American Library Association, which works to improve public access to government information, supports the idea behind Akaka's bill, said Lynne Bradley, director of the group's office of government relations.

“;Writing gobbledygook risks the public's access to government information and use and benefit of the government's services,”; Bradley said.

The federal work force has received directives calling for clear writing at least since 1998, when President Bill Clinton issued a memorandum saying documents should use common words, the active voice and short sentences.

Akaka's bill serves as a timely reminder, Bradley said.

Akaka said in a statement introducing the measure on March 11 that it is “;very difficult to hold the federal government accountable for its actions if only lawyers can understand government writing.”;