In 2017 and 2018, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) 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.
The Criminal Division hosted a Plain Writing Training provided by the Human Resources Institute. The division also updated its training website to include Plain Language Writing guidance and resources.
Environment and Natural Resources Division
The Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) spearheaded a project to streamline web content/governance processes associated with the management of the Division’s public-facing web presence. The first phase of this effort entailed removing hundreds of webpages that were redundant, outdated/obsolete, and/or trivial. The second phase will entail enhancing information architecture, and re-writing content to ensure alignment to mission space/Plain Writing Act best practices. To provide a foundation for the second phase, ENRD partnered with the Civil Rights Division, who provided Plain Writing Act Training to the Division. This custom training helped educate ENRD workforce who write content for general public consumption.
ENRD maintains a Plain Writing Act-compliant template for composing Federal Register Notices. Federal Register Notices drafted by ENRD, which are most often intended to publish notices/lodging of proposed consent decrees for public consumption, are reviewed for Plain Writing Act compliance before they are finalized.
Foreign Claims Settlement Commission
The Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (Commission) created a new claim form and instructions in support of the adjudication of claims under the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act. These documents provided a special challenge to the Commission as a group of likely respondents spoke a rare language as their primary language. Further, the Commission had to take account of various local customs and sensitivities in developing the forms. The forms were reviewed by both Commission staff and individuals located in Guam to ensure that the forms were written in a clear and concise manner. Further, the Commission has endeavored over the past two years to ensure that all decisions issued by the Commission are written in a plain manner to the extent possible.
Justice Management Division
The Justice Management Division finance staff conducted a plain language training, focusing on using active voice and tailoring a message to a particular audience.
Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management (OARM)
The Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management (OARM) routinely makes information written in Plain Language available directly to the public and to DOJ components for their use. OARM oversees the content of two main public webpages addressing DOJ legal hiring programs and OARM specifically. The Legal Careers website is directed primarily to the general public and prospective job applicants. The OARM website is primarily directed to current and incoming DOJ employees, with the exception of the section of OARM’s website dedicated to FBI Whistleblowers. The FBI Whistleblowers section provides information to the public about the unique provisions of the law applicable to FBI whistleblower cases and OARM’s procedures for handling those cases, as well as answers to frequently asked questions. In addition, OARM manages the content of an internal DOJ webpage providing policy and procedural guidance to DOJ employees on a wide range of legal employment policy matters.
OARM regularly reviews and updates its outward facing materials, including written recruitment materials, to ensure that they use clear, concise and well-organized language, and avoid unnecessarily complex or vague terms. OARM also strives to write its policy guidance so that it is useful to both agency personnel and the public. To further the use of Plain Language in written communications to its constituents, OARM employs the following strategies: 508 compliance in coordination with the DOJ web staff, peer reviews of content, input from target audience, and web analytics.
Office of the Pardon Attorney
In 2017 and 2018, the Office of the Pardon Attorney took several steps to ensure public information conforms to the Plain Writing standards. A number of form letters that are delivered to members of the public were revised, the office’s website has been reformatted to provide additional information, and all staff were asked to complete the online training course. In the upcoming year, the office will continue to revise our public information to provide succinct but thorough answers to those we serve.
The Office on Violence Against Women
The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) has engaged in efforts to comply with the Plain Writing Act. OVW revised the standard formula grant program and discretionary solicitation templates to reduce duplication, increase the use of consistent terminology and avoid jargon, and improve the layout and design. OVW staff use these templates when drafting the fiscal year solicitations and customize the final solicitations with relevant, specific information for each grant program. OVW also revised the Solicitation Companion Guide to avoid duplication, reorganize information and utilize links to the OVW website. Additionally, OVW presented a power point training on the principles of plain writing to OVW staff.
The U.S. Trustees Program edited internal reports and articles for publication to comply with Plain Writing principles.