In an effort to overhaul the process of developing new federal regulations, President Obama last year instructed agencies that any new rulemaking language must be “accessible, consistent, written in plain language, and easy to understand.”
Following up on Obama’s orders, Cass R. Sunstein, the White House official responsible for regulatory affairs, this week reminded agencies in a memo that any explanations with regulations must include “straightforward executive summaries.”
But in a departure from his own instructions, Sunstein uses a particularly wordy sentence to explain why: “Public participation cannot occur if the requirements of rules are unduly complex and if members of the public are unable to obtain a clear sense of the content of those requirements.”
(If Sunstein had followed his own guidance, perhaps he would have said: “Keep it simple, because the public won’t understand what you’re trying to do unless it’s written clearly.”)
The memo includes a suggested template and gets super-picky by adding that any executive summaries should be “generally 3-4 pages of a double-spaced Word document maximum, although unusually complex or lengthy regulatory actions may require longer executive summaries.”
Sounds like instructions from your old college professors, right? No word from Sunstein’s office on a font preference.
Here’s the template Sunstein wants agencies to use:
I. Purpose of the Regulatory Action
a. The need for the regulatory action and how the action will meet that need.
b. Succinct statement of legal authority for the regulatory action (explaining, in brief, the legal authority laid out later in the preamble).
II. Summary of the Major Provisions of the Regulatory Action In Question
(Each major provision should be described clearly and separately, along with a brief justification.)
III. Costs and Benefits
(For economically significant regulatory actions, please include a table summarizing the assessment of costs and benefits, both quantitative and qualitative.)
Aides said the new guidance should help remind agencies that keeping it simple makes it easier for the general public to weigh in on proposed changes to federal regulations.
Share your thoughts — and keep them simple — in the comments section below.
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