Making Forms Simpler

On August 9, 2012, in White House 2.0, by Obama Watcher

To fulfill its functions, the federal government asks people to fill out a lot of forms. To get permits and licenses, to pay taxes, and to qualify for benefits and grants, forms are often required. Too often, however, those forms are too confusing and complicated, especially for individuals and small businesses.  Today we are doing something about that problem.

From now on, agencies will be asked to test complex or lengthy forms in advance, by seeing if people can actually understand them. Advance testing can take many forms. Agencies might use focus groups. They might use web-based experiments. They might try in-person observations of how users understand the forms.  From those tests, agencies will be better able to identify the likely burdens on members of the public and to find ways to increase simplification and ease of comprehension.

Here’s an example from a closely related area: labeling. In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation unveiled new and improved fuel economy labels. The new labels promote informed choices by telling consumers, clearly and simply, about annual fuel costs and about the likely five-year savings or costs of particular cars (compared to the average vehicle). The new labels followed an extensive process of testing, to see what really would be most useful for consumers. In the future, we will be engaging in similar testing for forms, increasing simplicity, reducing confusion, and saving time.

In recent years, we have made a lot of progress in reducing red tape, increasing plain language, and eliminating complexity. Today’s action is a significant further step in this direction.


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