In 2020, 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.
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 2020 Daily Intranet announcements in Plain Language:
- Urgent System Messages
- Cybersecurity Alerts
- Security and Computer Alerts
- Computer Tips of the Week
- Weekly Maintenance Messages
- New Announcement section
- Wrote or copyedited about 25 announcements
Intranet content the web team authored or edited:
- EXO Communications Plan
- Sample Messages for system and service outages
- Issues of Interest
- Criminal Presentation
- Office of Operations Responsibilities
- Skype Page
- Telework Ready page
- Web Services Section Office page
- Virtual Collaboration Tools page
- Microsoft Teams page
- Offices and Employees organization
- Diversity Page
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:
- Speech Title consistency
- Public Workshop on Venture Capital Public Workshop
- Division Manual
- Judgment Termination Initiative
- Photo Gallery captions
- Virtual Conference: ICN 2020
- Report Violations: PCSF
- Small Business Help Center
- Contact Information
Antitrust Division Staff provide plain language content on third party systems:
Division Staff Training
The Antitrust Division strives to provide disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others by providing 508 descriptions written in plain language. In 2020 Antitrust Division has two DHS certified trusted testers version 5.
Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management
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. Specifically, 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.
Civil Rights Division
In 2020, the Civil Rights Division launched an Online Complaint Portal that streamlines the process for individuals wanting to connect with the Civil Rights Division. This internet-based portal: 1) offers a unified and efficient means for people to report discrimination; and, 2) improves the Division’s ability to assess and respond to complaints.
Environment and Natural Resources Division
In 2020, the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) continued its commitment to Plain Language Act principles while maintaining its public website. One staff member attended the Plain Language Summit in October 2020. Several staff also began DHS Trusted Tester training and attended the ICT Accessibility Symposium to increase accessibility awareness, testing and proficiency throughout the web content and software development lifecycle.
Executive Office for Immigration Review
Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)
The Board continued its plain writing initiatives in 2020. The Clerk’s Office notices were originally written in plain language. The Clerk’s Office continues to use plain writing when it revises or creates new notices, including in a project this fiscal year to review and update all notices. The BIA Style Manual, which is written for an internal audience, emphasizes the need for clear, direct writing when drafting a Board decision. It reminds staff attorneys and adjudicators that the objective of the Board is to be understood and not to impress. Updates to the BIA Style Manual maintain the same plain writing style that was used when the manual was first developed.
Live training for Board attorneys and adjudicators last year also addressed plain writing. The Board with LERS provided full-day writing trainings in January 2020 and November 2020 for all Board attorneys and appellate immigration judges (AIJs). Both trainings included sections on drafting clear, concise, and persuasive appellate decisions. Other sections provided instruction on grammar, punctuation, and the BIA Style Manual. The trainings also addressed how to appropriately convey key information to the multiple audiences who read Board decisions, ranging from unrepresented parties to judges. New attorneys participate in a robust onboarding program that focuses on plain writing and clarity by working with an experienced Board attorney for approximately eight months. In addition, new attorneys receive instruction on how to write a clear order on specific immigration-related topics. When new AIJs join the Board, their orientation includes several sessions with senior managers and fellow adjudicators to allow for input on Board perspective and style when issuing decisions. Also, new AIJs initially work on cases with mentor guidance, which provides the opportunity for plain writing guidance tailored to specific decisions.
Office of Administration (OA)
To improve the effectiveness of OA communications, OA has implemented plain writing that is clear, concise, and well-organized. Plain writing is currently being used in EOIR-wide OA messages and training material. Examples include messaging and content of OA communications concerning a wide range of OA initiatives to include budget and financial management, procurement related issues, space and facilities management, security and emergency management, and human resource information.
Office of the Chief Immigration Judge (OCIJ)
OCIJ continues to incorporate plain language writing into its public-facing documentation. The OCIJ Practice Manual and the Uniform Docketing System Manual continue to be periodically updated and remain written with readability in mind.
Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO)
OCAHO drafted an OCAHO Practice Manual, which sets forth OCAHO’s rules of practice and procedure from the Code of Federal Regulations (28 C.F.R. Part 68), but reorganizes and slightly rephrases them to incorporate elements of the Federal Plain Language Guidelines. This includes drafting more useful headings, using “must” instead of “shall” to indicate requirements, using more active voice, and using lists to aid in clarity. The OCAHO Practice Manual was released to the public in January 2021 as part of the EOIR Policy Manual. Additionally, OCAHO updated its Notice of Case Assignment document (which is sent to the parties at the beginning of every OCAHO case) to alert parties to the existence of the OCAHO Practice Manual and to encourage them to consult it as they proceed with their OCAHO cases.
Office of the General Counsel (OGC)
OGC has continued to apply and comply with the Plain Writing Act in all of its information collections governed under the Paperwork Reduction Act. As with years past, this year EOIR reviewed its OMB-approved forms and incorporated changes to make the forms clearer, more useful, and easier for the public to understand. By increasing readability, these plain language revisions are also intended to reduce the burden on the public completing these forms.
Office of Information Technology (OIT)
OIT is committed to writing new communications in clear, useful and understandable language that members of the public can grasp on first reading. OIT replaced the highly text-dense webpage that was the access point for online filing via the EOIR Courts and Appeals System (ECAS) with a landing page called “Access ECAS” that is dramatically easier to digest and navigate. The previous webpage required extensive reading to find links to applications and support resources; the new “Access ECAS” not only provides obvious links with short, clear descriptions but also includes supporting pages that were designed using plain language principles. The supporting pages include new and rewritten resources such as step by step infographics with screen shots as well as Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) in a skimmable format. All of the resources linked to from the Access ECAS site were created or updated based on plain language principles. New, user-friendly, brief “How To” videos chunked by tasks and scripted with straightforward, simple language are in work to be added to this site.
In addition, OIT has created an Automated Case Information System (ACIS) that has a few simple steps with straightforward instructions for respondents and their representatives to quickly find current information about a case, including decision information, next scheduled hearings, and court or BIA contact information, without requiring a password or registration. OIT has also created an EOIR Payment Portal for filing EOIR fees online, with simple instructions and screen elements using clear, simple text, and plain language FAQs. Finally, OIT established new processes to ensure that each new public facing application screen and all new support materials for them are created with plain language principles. These processes include reviews by usability and communications professionals as well as by Office of Policy’s Communications and Legislative Affairs Division (CLAD).
Office of Policy (OP)
As part of OP’s Legal Education and Research Services Division’s (LERS) training programs for new immigration judges, the instructors stressed that judges should use plain language in issuing their decisions. Also within LERS, the Legal Orientation Program for Custodians of Unaccompanied Alien Children (LOPC) and Immigration Court Helpdesk Program (ICH), program handouts and presentation scripts are written in plain language to clearly explain the immigration court process and forms of relief for individuals proceeding without counsel in immigration removal proceedings. In addition, (CLAD) provides ongoing updates to EOIR’s Style Guide, a valuable resource to ensure EOIR produces consistent and professional written products for internal and external (public affairs and website) communications. The Style Guide includes a section on plain language principles to make writing clear and consistent for its readers.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
At the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), we use 508 compliance testing, editing, and web analytics to make sure we’re following plain language requirements and best practices in our written communications to the public. Our public communications platforms include fbi.gov and subdomains, social media channels, and printed products.
We have an internal user guide that describes plain language standards, which include avoiding government jargon and using concise and conversational writing. FBI public affairs personnel use this guide to edit and vet web, social media, and other written content.
We continued our efforts to educate internal stakeholders on how to meet the needs of our public audience by writing in plain language. FBI public affairs personnel work with these content contributors when updating or creating material for our external communications platforms. We also encouraged these content contributors to attend plainlanguage.gov training sessions that were offered online in 2020.
FBI web and social media content managers continued to develop their plain language skills in 2020 through training sponsored by digital.gov and other sources. Several content managers also attended a virtual content strategy conference in 2020, which included sessions on usability, accessibility, and plain language.
Foreign Claims Settlement Commission
The Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (Commission) has continued its practice of using decision templates to support its adjudication of claims under the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act. These templates have been designed to provide a plainly written, consistent, and concise decision to each claimant.
National Institute of Corrections
The National Institute of Corrections conducts periodic plain language reviews of all content, including webpages, training materials, and print and electronic publications. Staff receive ongoing support for implementation of the Plain Writing Act by means of editorial services and training. Most recently, topics included the effective use of infographics, storytelling with data, creative nonfiction, and storytelling in new forms.
Office of the Pardon Attorney
The Office of the Pardon Attorney requires Plain Writing Act training for all new staff members and attorneys. We also make regular revisions to our “Frequently Asked Questions” page of our public-facing website, in order to respond to concerns of both office members and the public. These revisions incorporate both plain writing practices, as well as factual information. Finally, our office is working to reformat the clemency applications to allow members of the public to more easily provide the information necessary for the clemency inquiry.
United States Trustee Program
The United States Trustee Program edited internal reports and articles for publication to comply with plain writing principles.