Utah Senator Crusades for Bureaucratic Gobbledygook

This post by Coby Logen (a pseudonym), who blogs on government website matters at and has worked to improve government websites for the past five years, is syndicated here with permission.Thanks Coby!

Senator Bennett from Utah is single-handedly quashing the most commonsense, bi-partisan bill this year–a requirement that the U.S. government write clear, concise, and intelligible English. And he is doing so based on a misreading of the bill.

Never mind the bill’s near unanimous (376-1) passage in the House. Never mind that the bill simply reiterates an active Executive Order and memoranda from Presidents Clinton, Carter, and Nixon. And never mind that millions of Americans are every day.

One senator from Utah has concerns, so it will not go to a vote.

The would require government agencies to write some future documents in plain language: language that is clear, concise, and easy to understand. Specifically, it calls for using plain language when writing new government documents related to:

  • Government requirements
  • Government programs
  • Obtaining government benefits
  • Obtaining government services

The law would essentially restate , which federal agencies are , with the addition that agencies would report their progress in meeting the law.

Senator Bennett says he is concerned about the bill’s impact on the Federal Election Commission and the Election Assistance Commission. According to a spokesperson, “The FEC in particular is required to interpret campaign finance law and issue regulations that are often full of legal terms.” ()

But the bill clearly and specifically excludes federal regulations from the list of “covered documents” that must be written in plain language. If Senator Bennett had read the before he opposed it, he should have spotted that exclusion.

So Senator Bennett’s concern is a moot point and should not prevent this law’s passage. However, Harry Reid is afraid to bring the plain language bill to a vote while Senator Bennett threatens to quash it.

Senator Bennett might be confused about this bill, but that is no reason the nation should be confused by bureaucratic gobbledygook for years to come.

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8 Comments

  1. As press officer for Plain English Campaign we would like to add our voice in support of the onward passage of this bill for the doubtless benefit of all our ‘gobbledygooked’ friends in the US (including Senator Bennett).

    Our recent press release to UK media reflects the moot point of the objection and we look forward to hearing that common sense has prevailed with the passing of this bill.

    kind regards
    Marie Clair
    on behalf of Plain English Campaign

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  2. I guess I slept through the part of US. Social Studies that explains how one senator can prevent a bill from being passed. I know about filibusters (would he really do it just for this??), but can’t the rest of the senators just sort of quash his attempts to quash the bill?

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  3. According to the post, the House voted for it 376 to 1 but Senate leader Harry Reid won’t/hadn’t brought it to the Senate floor for a vote because of Senator Bennett’s objections. Both sides of Congress must pass a bill before it goes to the President to be signed into legislation.

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  4. Google “legislative hold” “US Senate” and read why in practice bills DO have to have unanimous aqreement.

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  5. According to the U.S. Senate Glossary:
    hold – An informal practice by which a Senator informs his or her floor leader that he or she does not wish a particular bill or other measure to reach the floor for consideration. The Majority Leader need not follow the Senator’s wishes, but is on notice that the opposing Senator may filibuster any motion to proceed to consider the measure. See
    http://www.senate.gov/reference/glossary_term/hold.htm

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