PLAIN WRITING ACT
ANNUAL COMPLIANCE REPORT FOR 2016
In the past year, the Department’s various components have continued to implement the requirements of the Plain Writing Act by writing and revising documents intended for the public to be more clear, concise, meaningful and well-organized.
The Department’s law enforcement bureaus and offices, boards and divisions vary considerably in their missions and structures; therefore, the Department has continued to rely on each component’s leadership to determine which of their documents comply with the Act, or need to be revised, as well as which employees need Plain Language training.
In a continued reflection of the diverse and decentralized process employed by the Department in implementing the Act, here is a sample of Plain Writing activities from a number of components.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)
ATF in this last year has continued to incorporate Plain Language writing in our firearms regulations. In addition, we had a small instruction block for both our Intelligence Research Specialists and those at our National Training Center who respond to firearms license-related Congressional inquiries.
Progress on Internal Division Documents
To help promote a culture of Plain Writing, we are continuing to review frequently used division directives, memos and announcements for conversion to a Plain Language format. The following Division documents have been revised and posted internally to familiarize staff with the Plain Language form of writing:
Examples of 2015 Daily Intranet announcements in Plain Language
Procedures for Joining the Voluntary Leave Bank Program
Best Places to Work Results
Urgent System Messages
Security and Computer Alerts
Computer Tips of the Week
Use or Lose Leave Instructions
Federal Benefits Open Season
Progress on Internet Website Compliance
The following public documents that are widely used are continuously reviewed and adjusted with updates, as needed, to a Plain Language format:
- “Antitrust Laws and You”
- Antitrust Enforcement and the Consumer “brochure”
- "Reporting Antitrust Concerns”
- Business Review Documents
Division Staff Training
The Division will identify and provide training on Plain Language principles and practices in FY2016.
Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS)
Progress on Internal Documents:
We have completed the COPS Office Editorial and Graphics Style Manual: Third Edition. We are continuing to update and review COPS products, including our Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) Guides, Grant Owner’s Manuals (GOMs), Director Decision Memos, and other general announcements for conversion to a Plain Language format.
Examples of 2015 Intranet announcements in Plain Language:
Kudos for COPS – Recognize a Colleague for a Job Well Done
Idea Station – Post and Vote on New Ideas for the Office
Announcement of the Monthly Issue of Community Policing Dispatch
Community Policing News Feed (Community Policing News from across the country)
COPS has implemented a Plain Writing Team Site available to staff via the COPS Intranet Site. The site includes links to the Federal Plain Language Guideline, the Federal Law, and the initial report. COPS Office of Development and Policy Review will oversee on-going compliance with requirements through the use of the site as one measure to insure consistency with the plain writing requirement.
Progress on Internet Website Compliance:
The following public documents that are widely used are continuously reviewed and adjusted with updates, as needed, to a Plain Language format:
- Grantee Award Packages
- Grant Monitoring Standards and Guidelines for All COPS Grants and Cooperative Agreements
The COPS Plain Language Team continues to focus on updating and improving all documents available to the public in a clear and concise manner.
Division Staff Training:
As of 2015, more than 98% or all COPS staff members have completed the online Principles of Plain Language Parts I and II through LearnDOJ to fulfill the Plain Writing Act requirement. In addition, COPS has taken additional steps to educate its staff on Plain Language requirements by conducting information sessions to staff on a quarterly basis.
Community Relations Service (CRS)
One of the areas in which CRS incorporated the Plain Writing requirements in FY2015 was on the Agency’s website. Over the past several years, CRS has been actively rewriting the website pages to remove extraneous, convoluted text and ensure that passages are written for a public lens, rather than the perspective of CRS staff. In that vein, CRS has rephrased the services it provides to communities to remove terms that are confusing, vague or unnecessarily complex; condensed and simplified bullet points describing CRS’s work; and re-written case summaries from the viewpoint of the communities the agency serves.
Because the website is viewed by many different audiences, CRS created additional web pages, encompassing jurisdictional areas and communities the Agency works with, in order to address the specific needs and concerns of the different communities it serves. In addition, CRS replaced its current photographs to be more representative of the work CRS does, rather than where CRS offices are located.
CRS also ensured that Plain Writing requirements were followed during the construction of the newly-published Agency Facebook and LinkedIn pages. The Agency utilized clear, concise and well-organized language, and avoided unnecessarily complex or vague terms. The Facebook page and the LinkedIn page provide even more avenues for communities to learn about CRS and its services.
CRS also implemented Plain Writing recommendations in its 2014 Annual Report to Congress. During the drafting of the Annual Report, CRS ensured that the information about the Agency, as well as the review of its casework, was clear, concise and well-organized. In addition, the Agency committed to using short, simple words when writing, and omitted unnecessary words. CRS avoided using legal and technical jargon when not necessary, and maintained consistency of terms for a specific thought or object throughout the publication.
In addition, CRS provided examples of its work and utilized illustrations when helpful, to provide clarity to the writing. CRS will continue to work on incorporating Plain Writing recommendations into its outward facing materials, including brochures, pamphlets and webpages.
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
The Office of Acquisition and Relocation Management (FA)
FA has updated security clearance documents on its “Doing Business with DEA” website. In order to comply with the requirements of the Plain Writing Act (PWA), as well as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, FA converted fill-in fields in the documents into accessible readable formats. FA continues to review other acquisition communications, such as Acquisition Policy Letters and DEA clauses to comply with the PWA and facilitate more streamlined and clearer communications with government contractors. The guidelines of the PWA provide invaluable assistance in the formation of DEA clauses, resulting in less ambiguity and therefore better communications with government contractors.
FA conducts a minimum of six training sessions per year on crucial acquisition subject matter. Each FA training session highlights both substantive and, procedural guidance and reminds acquisition personnel of the importance of proper grammatical construction in the formation of acquisition guidance. Contracting Officers, Contracting Specialists, Procurement Analysts, Administrative Support Staff attend this training.
The Office of Diversion Control (OD); the Liaison (ODLL) and Policy (ODLP) Sections
The Office of Diversion Control Liaison and Policy Section (ODL) comprises ODLL and ODLP and plans, develops, and evaluates regulations and legislation designed to enhance the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA’s) diversion control efforts. It also provides interpretation and implementation of new and existing policies, legislation, and regulations. ODL establishes and maintains liaison and working relationships with other federal agencies; foreign, state and local governments; and the regulated industries that interface with the DEA in policy matters. ODL communicates in a plain language format with various members of the community (e.g., DEA registrants and their representatives, members of Congress at the state and federal level, and the general public) using various forms of communication, such as written correspondence (e.g., letters and e-mails); telephone conversations; presentations and availability to answer questions at conferences and meetings hosted by DEA, or manning exhibit booths at association conferences; and the Office of Diversion Control website (e.g., registrant manuals, informational brochures, questions and answers webpages, and other documents).
The Liaison Unit (ODLL) serves as a primary representative for the Diversion Control Program (DCP) to groups outside of the DEA. ODLL actively communicates and provides guidance to regulated industry, other federal agencies, as well as international, state, and local counterparts. ODLL develops and maintains manuals and other publications; organizes and conducts national conferences on current issues, policies, and initiatives; and serves as an agency resource for outreach concerning DCP matters.
The Policy Unit (ODLP) communicates existing policy established by the Office of Diversion Control, and coordinates the drafting and revision of the DI Manual. ODLP recommends the establishment of new policies or modifications to existing policies affecting the DCP, as necessary. ODLP provides interpretation and guidance on DEA policies and regulations to regulated industries, the general public, and to Diversion personnel at DEA Headquarters and in Diversion Field Offices via letters, e-mail, and telephone. ODLP also responds to congressional inquiries concerning the Diversion Control Program.
Meetings hosted by the DEA:
Pharmacy Diversion Awareness Conferences (PDAC)
Between February and December 2015, the DEA hosted 16 PDACS in various states nationwide. These meetings are open to pharmacy personnel (e.g., pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, or loss prevention personnel) who are employed by pharmacies or hospitals and clinics that are registered with the DEA in the state in which the PDAC is being held.
Washington Medicine Take-Back Summit
On October 5, 2015, in Lynnwood, Washington, the DEA and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, in partnership with the Office of Governor Jay Inslee and the County of Snohomish, held a one-day meeting to provide a forum to address the difficult challenges the State of Washington faces regarding the safe and secure disposal of the public’s unwanted or expired medications. The summit’s goal was to discuss and obtain commitments from private sector partners to share responsibility in devising a sustainable and comprehensive approach for consumers in the collection and destruction of the unwanted drugs.
On September 23 – 24, 2015, the DEA hosted this conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland. The purpose of this conference was to provide a forum to present federal laws and regulations that affect pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing, importing and exporting industry and to discuss practices to prevent diversion while minimizing the impact on legitimate commerce. In addition, topics such as quotas, year-end reporting, Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS) reporting, import/export permits and declarations were discussed.
Reverse Distributor Meeting
On July 16, 2015, the DEA hosted this meeting in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation in Arlington, Virginia. The purpose of this meeting was to assist reverse distributors in understanding the new regulations with further explanation on the associated recordkeeping, reporting and security requirements.
On April 15 – 16, 2015, the DEA hosted this meeting at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland. The purpose of this conference was to provide an overview of federal laws and regulations that affect pharmaceutical and chemical distributors, such as recordkeeping, ARCOS and suspicious order reporting.
Pharmaceutical Drug Diversion Seminar
On November 14, 2014, the DEA hosted this one-day seminar for practitioners, such as medical doctors, physicians, and mid-level practitioners (e.g., Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners). The purpose of this seminar is to assist practitioner and mid-level practitioner personnel in identifying and preventing diversion.
National Conference on Pharmaceutical and Chemical Diversion
On September 30 – October 1, 2014, the DEA hosted the 22nd such conference in Kansas City, Missouri. Attendees included various state and local government, law enforcement and regulatory agencies. The purpose of the conference is to educate state and local regulatory and law enforcement personnel on current trends and issues involving pharmaceutical controlled substances and DEA regulated (listed) chemicals. State and local representatives also had an opportunity to interact with DEA representatives to discuss issues or concerns on behalf of their state or region. This conference is held on an annual basis and is one of the mechanisms used by the Office of Diversion Control to foster communication and cooperation with its state and local counterparts.
Conferences where ODL personnel gave presentations:
National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS)
On August 24, 2015, Section Chief Ruth Carter gave a presentation at this conference held in Denver, Colorado, titled “Current Trends in DEA Compliance.”
American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
On July 13, 2015, Section Chief Ruth Carter gave a presentation at this conference held in Boston, Massachusetts, titled “Veterinarians and the DEA.”
California State Board of Pharmacy Board Meeting
On June 24, 2015, Section Chief Ruth Carter gave a presentation at this conference held in Sacramento, California, titled “Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010.”
Alaska Pharmacists Association Annual Meeting
On February 15, 2015, Section Chief Ruth Carter gave a presentation at this conference held in Anchorage, Alaska, titled “Pharmaceutical Drug Abuse and Trafficking Trends.”
National Association of State Controlled Substance Authorities (NASCA)
On October 23, 2014, Section Chief Ruth Carter gave a presentation at this conference held in Savannah, Georgia, titled “DEA Update.”
Although most of the correspondence written by the Liaison and Policy Section is considered proprietary information and, therefore, is not releasable outside of the DEA or to anyone but to the requestor, ODL has responded to over 300 letters from Members of Congress, DEA registrants or their representative associations, and the general public in calendar year 2015. Furthermore, several “Dear Registrant” letters have been placed on the DEA Office of Diversion Control website.
Dear Registrant Letter 12/02/2014, titled “Final Rule Placed Hydrocodone Combination Products (HCPs) into Schedule II, effective October 6, 2014”
Dear Practitioner Letter 10/17/2014, titled “Seeks to Clarify the DEA Position Regarding a Practitioner’s Disposal of Pharmaceutical Wastage”
Miscellaneous items on the DEA Office of Diversion Control’s Webpage:
Drug Disposal Fact Sheets for DEA registrants, patients, and Long Term Care Facilities
Search for an Authorized Collector Location
This hyperlink permits anyone to search by zip code or city/state for those DEA registrants that have modified their DEA registrations to be an authorized collector of legitimately prescribed controlled substances from non-registrants for disposal purposes.
There have been no new manuals, brochures, pamphlets, etc. posted on the Diversion website in the past year. As stated below, the Narcotic Treatment Manual as well as a revision to the Practitioner’s Manual have been completed and are being vetted through the Diversion chain of command. Minor changes and corrections are being made to these manuals when warranted.
The following documents are compliant with the Plain Writing Act and are currently available on the Diversion website, www.DEAdiversion.usdoj.gov:
Chemical Handler’s Manual
Narcotic Treatment Programs/Best Practice Guidelines
Security Outline of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970
There are numerous informational brochures posted on our website that are compliant with the Act as well:
Pharmacy Robbery and Burglary
Drug Addiction in Health Care Professionals
A Pharmacist’s Guide to Prescription Fraud
Don’t Be Scammed By A Drug Abuser
Pharmacy Theft Warning Poster
How Sick People Get Sick
The following manuals are currently under revision:
Narcotic Treatment Manual: This manual will be replacing the “Narcotics Treatment Programs/Best Practice Guidelines” brochure, which is currently on the Diversion website. The Narcotic Treatment Manual has been completed and is currently in the vetting process.
Practitioner’s Manual: The revision for this manual has been completed and is currently in the vetting process.
In addition, a Mid-Level Practitioner’s Manual is currently being written. This is a new manual specifically geared towards Mid-Level Practitioner registrants.
The Office of Operations Management (OM)
The letters referenced below were updated to ensure that they are in compliance with Title 28 Code of Federal Regulations, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA), Department of Justice (DOJ) Asset Forfeiture Policy and with the Plain Writing Act of 2010. OMA staff met with DEA’s Senior Forfeiture Chief Counsel Forfeiture Attorneys to ensure that the section’s correspondence is in compliance with CAFRA, DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture Policy, and with the Plain Writing Act of 2010.
The following documents were revised in Plain Language so that the public can understand and use: Claim Acknowledgment Letter, Claim Defect Letter, Claim Timely Defective Unsure Letter, Petition Defect Letter, Petition Acknowledgment Letter, Automated Clearing House Settlement Letter, and Automated Clearing House Declination Letter.
The Office of Diversion Control, Office of Registration (ODR)
“Pop-Ups” were added to the registration application process for certain business activities. The pop-ups contain information to clarify specific items. For example, if you try to apply for a registration as a teaching institution, the pop-up explains how this business activity is NOT for individuals. If you need a list of the pop-ups please let me know.
The Office of Diversion Control, UN Reporting & Quota Section (ODQ)
The UN Reporting and Quota Section has always prepared Plain Language documents to be viewed by the public (APQ Federal Registers) and to be used by the DEA registrants (User Manuals and other Quota system documents).
Here’s a link to our documents on the OD website.
Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD)
ENRD provides Plain Writing Act training for all new Division employees. We additionally offer to all ENRD employees PWA training, which can be taken on an as-needed and/or as-desired basis from the convenience of the employee’s desktop via learnDOJ.
ENRD continues to provide and maintain a Plain Writing Act-compliant template for composing Federal Register Notices on the Division’s intranet. The template was created to ensure such Notices were specifically compatible with the goals of the PWA. Federal Register Notices drafted by ENRD (which are most often intended to publish notices of the lodging of proposed consent decrees for public consumption) are reviewed by Division managers before they are finalized, and PWA is one of the elements of the review.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
To increase the use of Plain Language in any written communications to the public, the FBI has continued to employ the following resources and strategies:
- 508 Compliance Testing
- Peer and/or expert reviews
- Web analytics
- Targeted audience focus group session
The FBI has developed an internal user guide and policy to ensure all language and content posted on FBI.gov and its subdomains are compliant with Plain Writing tenets. In addition to disseminating this information and training personnel, the FBI performs compliance reviews.
FBI staff have also developed and delivered training presentations and briefings on best practices, frequent challenges or pitfalls, and other strategies for improving the use of Plain Language. Our personnel have been invited to deliver this training for other Department of Justice entities. Examples include: training on improving communications through the government’s social media presence; content development improvement strategies; and storytelling through the use of visual means.
The FBI has both government employees and contractor support providing assistance with FBI.gov and subdomain content. These resources review content to ensure Plain Language is utilized. The FBI does not duplicate this process through the use of outside vendors.
Office of the Inspector General (OIG)
The OIG continues to uphold Plain Language principles in both its internal and publicly disseminated products. For example, the OIG reviews position descriptions and vacancy announcement templates and revises language as necessary to provide job prospects with more reader-friendly material. Divisions also continue to review templates for memoranda and letters used for various correspondence to ensure the use of Plain Language. The OIG’s Office of General Counsel regularly assesses standard form documents, such as Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Giglio response letters, to improve them from a Plain Language perspective.
For other types of written material that is made public, such as reports, testimony, and related documents, divisions are responsible for ensuring that final products materially comply with relevant OIG standards, including the OIG’s Style Guide that specifies the use of plain and concise language. Nearly all of the OIG’s publicly-disseminated documents go through a rigorous editing process to ensure that plain, concise and understandable language is used in the final product. This process also applies to OIG web-based postings of ongoing work summaries, press statements, multimedia products including videos and podcasts, and Twitter announcements.
In addition, several divisions refer to Plain Language principles in their performance or strategic plans and some divisions include related performance measures, such as training, in staff’s performance goals.
This past year, report review and other staff from most of the reporting divisions participated in training that reinforced Plain Language use. This training, which was provided by the OIG, various vendors, and the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, included sessions on Writing Effective Reports; Writing Fundamentals; Coaching Effective Writing; Effective Auditing; Improving Audit Report Writing; Professional Communication; Clear Writing through Critical Thinking; and Writing for Results.
Specific division efforts to reinforce Plain Writing include conducting roundtable sessions to resolve any potential misinterpretations during the report-writing process, and providing training for using software that generates a readability measurement roughly equivalent to U.S. grade levels. Overall, report reviewers and writer-editors have been trained to use Plain Language to the fullest extent possible, a challenge given the often technical and legal nature of the OIG’s work.
The OIG also applies report standardization guidelines to ensure consistency among its reporting divisions and to improve the readability of its publicly-issued products. These efforts include uniform report covers and a uniform report numbering system within the reporting divisions; the use of a reader-friendly standardized font; the creation of a report template with standard report elements; and the use of formatting requirements to be applied consistently across the OIG.
In addition to guidance provided at the division level, the OIG also continues to publish related articles in its bi-weekly newsletter that is distributed to all OIG employees. The OIG also uses its SharePoint platform to raise awareness of the Plain Writing Act, provide related tools and tips, and communicate additional writing guidance that includes Plain Language techniques.
Office of Information Policy (OIP)
OIP continues to make information written in Plain Language available directly to the public and to DOJ components for their use in corresponding with the public.
OIP regularly updates its website with materials written in Plain Language, such as blog posts that announce FOIA news and events and other documents about FOIA administration. For example, OIP recently posted its Summary of Annual FOIA Reports for Fiscal Year 2015. This clearly-written summary provides the public with an overview of statistics about FOIA processing government-wide. Additionally, OIP strives to write its other reports, including the Chief FOIA Officer Report and the Litigation and Compliance Report, so that the public can easily understand DOJ’s FOIA administration and OIP’s work to encourage government-wide compliance with the FOIA.
OIP also strives to write its policy guidance so that it is useful to both agency personnel and the public. For example, OIP posted “implementation checklists” alongside two policy guidance documents to help agencies easily understand the main points of the guidance. The checklists also help FOIA requesters understand the guidance and have clear expectations of agencies. OIP also recently posted guidance and a Template for Agency FOIA Regulations, which includes sample regulation provisions written in Plain Language.
Last year, OIP created a FOIA language database on its DOJnet site that we encourage components to use as they write response letters to requesters. OIP periodically reviews and revises the database language as needed to make it more requester- friendly. The OIP Appeals Staff emphasizes to its attorneys the importance of adding language to response letters beyond boilerplate language if it would help a requester better understand the basis for OIP’s determination. The Initial Requests Staff regularly corresponds with requesters via email, which is inherently more colloquial. Additionally, OIP is in the process of revising its FOIA Reference Guide, which explains the DOJ’s FOIA process to the public, to improve use of Plain Language. OIP will continue to work on increasing the use of plain language in the upcoming year.
Finally, in 2011, OIP launched FOIA.gov, which is the government's comprehensive website on the FOIA. Among many other features, FOIA.gov serves as an educational resource for the public by providing useful information about how the FOIA works, where to make requests, and what to expect through the FOIA process. Explanatory videos are embedded into the website, and the site contains a section addressing frequently-asked questions as well as a glossary of FOIA terms. This past year OIP took a fresh look at the language on FOIA.gov and revised it to be written more in line with Plain Language principles.
Office of Justice Programs (OJP)
OJP continues to ensure that all Office of Communications staff and Office of General Counsel staff are trained in Plain Language principles. The focus remains on these individuals due to the frequency of their written communications with the public. OJP still maintains Plain Language training for all employees by highlighting the Plain Language training modules within LearnDOJ and OJP U (OJP’s internal resource for all training and development opportunities). We also use this collaborative resource for employees to share best practices and post information regarding Plain Language.
OJP’s Office of General Counsel and Office of Communications continue to review all external releases to ensure that they are in compliance with the Plain Writing Act and follow Plain Language guidelines. OJP also continues to offer regular training regarding writing techniques through our current training vendor. These trainings cover a range of topics including grammar, document construction, and concise and clear language.
As part of OJP’s grants management process, OJP annually convenes a working group to review the standard language used in over 200 funding opportunities issued during the fiscal year. The working group focuses on streamlining the instructions to applicants, and for any new language added ensures it is written in a clear and concise manner. This spring, OJP will be providing mandatory training to all staff involved in the writing and development of funding opportunities. The training will focus on writing a clear, Plain Language description of program objectives and deliverables being sought.
Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR)
In the past year, OPR has received no comments or criticisms regarding its Plain Writing Act compliance.
OPR’s main emphasis in its work product is the clear dissemination of information in every final document that is created, whether for internal Department use or for public distribution. OPR continually reviews its website, annual reports, and public letters, and other public materials to ensure that they comply with the Plain Writing Act provisions. All documents that are subject to the Plain Writing Act are thoroughly reviewed by supervisors and managers for clarity, punctuation, grammar and spelling before they are finalized and publicly released.
Every new employee of OPR is given a copy of the Federal Plain Writing Act Guidelines 2011 for their review, and clear writing is stressed as a primary goal. OPR developed a writing style manual that is distributed to all employees.
This past year, the Division created a webpage to describe its employment tax enforcement https://www.justice.gov/tax/employment-tax-enforcement-0 efforts. That page reflects three Plain Language principles. First, it is written for a particular audience: the taxpaying public. Instead of including technical details that only tax professionals can understand, the page describes employment tax responsibilities with terms that an average working-age person can understand. Second, the page is thoughtfully organized to serve the user’s understanding and needs. General information about employment tax is presented first. Specialized details follow. Finally, the page’s paragraphs are short. Each paragraph covers only one topic.
To support future Plain Language efforts, the Tax Division recently hired a Director of Information Management. That new Director is currently evaluating the design and content of Division websites. He is also evaluating new tools and processes that would support Plain Language content.
U.S. Trustee Program
The U.S. Trustee Program continues to maintain a Plain Writing Act SharePoint page that includes PowerPoint slides from the Program’s Plain Writing training, FAQs, and other Plain Writing related documents. We also continue to have Plain Writing coordinators in each of the Program’s 21 regions and the Executive Office to review new documents that are subject to the Act.