Editorial: Uncle Sam needs a lesson in plain English
Sure, Congress may have adjourned without passing any of the spending bills for the fiscal year that started Friday. And they may have taken a pass on voting to extend some or all of the Bush tax cuts until sometime after the election. Naturally, it's more important to spend the next month campaigning, right?
Certainly lawmakers don't deserve any praise for that. However, we will give them an approving nod for a minor measure they gave the OK to before heading home, simply because it's the kind of thing that won't cost much money and has the potential to make life a little easier for many Americans. We speak of the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which mandates that Uncle Sam start churning out documents used by the public - tax forms, college aid applications, etc. - written in ordinary, simple English.
If you've ever gotten fed up deciphering the instructions on your 1040 on April 14, scratched your head over some mailing from Medicare or Social Security, or given yourself a migraine trying to understand the FDA warning on a container of pills, the reason for this measure should be pretty evident.
How much time gets wasted, how many forms get filled out incorrectly because ordinary folks have to haul out their Bureaucrat-to-English dictionary to try to translate what ought to be a simple document? How many fewer taxpayers will have to call government help lines, or queue up at government offices to get questions answered, if things were just written simply and clearly in the first place?
Examples of the differences in forms - produced by the Center for Plain Language and available on our website - are truly startling. This is the rare good idea from Congress, one that should have been implemented long ago. That it passed with bipartisan support makes its popularity clear; President Obama should sign it into law as soon as it hits his desk. Now if only we could get lawmakers to start writing understandable bills, rather than 2,000-page monstrosities that nobody reads.
Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.