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National Plain Language Peer to Peer Conference

Appendix B

The National Plain Language (PL) peer to peer exchange conference is schedule for June 17-19, 2008 at Sacramento California. The host state is circulating this pre-conference questionnaire in an effort to prepare each participant for the agenda items that we plan to discuss at the conference. Your responses will be published in the final report for this conference. Please email your responses to Sey Hossnieh at sey_hossnieh@dot.ca.gov by June 13, 2008.

General Information
1. How do you define plain language?
CA Easy to read, understand and use.
FL Plain language has been defined as language your audience understands the first time they hear or read it. That means you must know your audience.
IA While Iowa does not have a formal definition, we believe that our conversion to the Imperative Mood - Active Voice mode of writing will be a move towards ensuring plain language useage.
WA Easy to read
2. What is the status of plain language conversion in your state?
CA 90% completed on the draft of Division 100. Working with technical owners of common materials, landscape, structures.
FL The Florida Department of Transporation Standard Specifications have been written in Active Voice since 1999.
IA Iowa is in the process of reviewing and approving the final language for our Imperative Mood - Active Voice conversion to be issued in conjunction with our October 2009 construction letting.
WA Use of Plain Talk was decreed as required by the Governor. Several agencies have undertaken formal PL conversions. WSDOT has not begun any formal PL conversions, but some managers have begun to incorporate PL principles into their publications.
3. What was the reason for starting the PL project?
CA CA govt code, Chapter 3.3, Section 6219; June 1, 1998 Presidential Order; Go California-Industry Capacity Expansion
FL The Department wanted to make the Standard Specifications easier to understand and to reduce the size of the book. This would help reduce the number of contract claims and lower the cost of printing the Standard Specifications Book.
IA The Imperative Mood-Active Voice mode of writing is more clear to the contracting authority and contractor. Iowa noticed the high percentage of other states making the same switch which helped to make the decision.
WA WSDOT has not begun a conversion of our contract documents. Use of Plain Talk was decreed by the Governor. It applies to all things that we send to the public. Because our contract documents are not for the public, we believe they are excluded.
4. Do you consider specifications part of design or construction?
CA Specifications are written for the bidder, adminstered by construction.
FL The State Specifications Office is combined with the State Estimates Office and is a part of the Design Division. At one time the office was a part of the State Construction Office.
IA Specifications are an integral part of both design and construction. While specifications are written to the contractor, the designer needs to be aware of the end result product.
WA Construction.
5. Did you consider Construction Specification Institute format?
CA Yes.
FL No. Division II of the FDOT specifications follow the AASHTO format. The CSI format does not lend itself to the FDOT specifications.
IA Yes, the Iowa DOT considered several different formats, but in the end decided to only perform the Imperative Mood-Active Voice conversion to avoid confusion with our industry and additional internal costs to reprogram our historical bid data and modifying all our electronic forms.
WA No, WSDOT follows the AASHTO format. CSI Format appears to be specific to vertical construction.
6. For materials, how did you split out general from specific requirements?
CA Include a heading titled "General" for specifications that apply to multiple sections and as a placeholder for project-specific specifications that do not fall under the other headings. If used only as a placeholder, write Reserved under the heading.
FL The FDOT Standard Specifications is separated into three Divisions: Division I covers General Requirements and Covenants, Division II covers Construction Details, and Division III covers Materials. Division II directs the Contractor to comply with the specific material requirements covered in Division III.
IA Specific material language is included in the second part of the of our 5 part format, while general materials language is included in Iowa's Division 41 of the specifications.
WA Materials acceptance is a general requirement. All other materials requirements are specific (technical) requirements.
7. Do you include building work with road work or use separate contracts?
CA Yes
FL We include building work with road work. However, building work is constructed under Technical Special Provisions signed and sealed a by registered engineer, while the remaining work is to be constructed in accordance with the Standard Specifications.
IA No, building work is always added as special provisions.
WA WSDOT uses separate contracts for highway work and for building work.
8. What is your spec development process?
CA The process is documented in Section 3 of the Guide for Standard Specifications, SSPs, and Standard Plans.
FL Very generally, any employee of the FDOT can request a revision to a specification. The request is made to the State Specifications Engineer, along with the specification change formatted to specific requirements, and an origination form detailing the reasons for the change. If the State Specifications Engineer concurs with the change, it is forwarded to one of four specialists in the Specifications Development Section for processing. The specialist will process the revisions through implementation or rejection. The proposed revision will go through a 90 day review process, with internal, industry and FHWA review. During the review process, FDOT employees, industry members and FHWA employees are given the opportunity to review, comment and suggest changes to the proposed revision. All comments and suggestions will be considered and responded to by the originator. The proposed specifications, comments and responses are posted to the Specifications Office web site. If the proposed change is adopted, it will be included in a workbook of modifications to the Standard Specifications. A new workbook is distributed every six months for use in compiling specification packages for FDOT Contracts. The Specification Development Procedure is an officially adopted FDOT procedure.
IA A Specification Committee is comprised of Office Directors within the Highway Division or their designees. The committee has authority to approve specification revisions. All revisions are routed through the appropriate Committee representative for input before it is added to an agenda. Subsequent to the Specification Committee meetings the Specification's Section staff compiles revisions every six months in order to issue the General Supplemental Specification which modifies the Standard Specifications and is issued inconjunction with the Iowa DOTs April and October highway construction letting.
WA Project specific provisions are developed by the project designer, subject to Region and HQ review and approval. Standard Specifications are developed by subject matter experts with input from department construction staff and from Industry. Standard Specifications require approval by HQ Construction and FHWA.
9. How many specification engineers do you have?
CA Office Engineer has 12 Standards Engineers.
FL We have the State Specifications Engineer who supervises a staff of four Specification Development Specialists. The FDOT is decentralized into eight districts. Each district has a Specifications Office with a staff of two or three, but they are generally involved with assembly of specification packages, not developing specifications.
IA Two dedicated to specification development and process management however the Iowa DOT has numerous technical experts that are able to provide assistance as needed.
WA WSDOT has just one.
10. What is your relationship between technical experts?
CA Standards Engineers support the owners in ensuring the Standards meet the Department's standards for style, language, and format.
FL It is important to understand that the Specification Development Specialists do not write specifications. It is our responsibility to ensure that the Specification Development Procedure is followed, to prepare the specifications in the correct format, to verify that all references are correct, and to ensure proper implementation of the changes. We rely on the technical experts to provide the technical information, and we work very closely with them to ensure a good final product.
IA The Iowa DOT has a very good relationship with technical experts representing both the construction industry and academia. The Iowa DOT meets regularily with construction industry representatives to discuss issues involving mutual concern.
WA There is very little relationship between technical experts, as they come from a variety of disciplines such as Design, Construction, Materials, Traffic, Geotechnical, and Legal.
11. Did you pilot your PL conversion?
CA 2010 Standards are not complete and ready for use.
FL No. As each Section of our Specifications was converted to Active Voice, we followed our Specification Development Procedure in having the Section reviewed by internal staff and industry personnel. Sections of the specifications were assigned to technical experts within the Department as final authority on the conversion of the specification. We worked very closely with all parties involved in the conversion, so there were no surprises when we published the 1999 Standard Specifications Book in Active Voice.
IA No, however before the conversion began the Iowa DOT visited with the major construction industries to inform them of the direction and to assure them that the only change would be in the style of specification writing and not in the actual content of the specification expectations.
WA Have not yet converted. Not likely to pilot a conversion of the contract documents, because the contract documents would have to be 100% converted in order to use them in any single contract. We would not undertake a full conversion until we know for sure that we want to remain there.
Bid Book
12. What are the main concerns regarding bidding?
CA Getting good bids.
FL The main concerns are that bids are within a certain percentage of the Department’s official estimate, that there is no unbalanced bidding, and that more than one bid is received. With few exceptions, contracts greater than $500k will be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder if that bid falls within 10% of the Department’s estimate. Contracts less than $500k will be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder whose bid is within 15% of the Department’s estimate.
IA None
WA Our main problems in the bidding arena are the clarity of Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Condition of Award provisions, and requirements for submission of subcontractor lists.
13. What is your process for bid analysis?
CA Bids are opened and verified, bid summaries prepared and reviewed for comparison with our estimate for material unbalanced and competiveness.
FL Bids that do not meet the criteria for automatic award will be analyzed by DOT experts, reviewed with the bidder, and reviewed by a DOT Technical Review Committee and a Contract Award Committee. Membership on these committees is comprised of top Department Officials.
IA All bids are analyized using AASHTO Transport software products on a letting by letting basis. Thus if there were differences due to PL conversion it should show up during the letting analysis.
WA Lowest responsive bid.
14. Did you pilot your bid book conversion?
CA New bid book will be implemented next fiscal year using existing standards.
FL No. Industry was intimately involved with conversion of our specifications to Active Voice. The specifications make up the vast majority of the bid book, so no piloting was necessary.
WA Not converted. Not likely to pilot for same reason as Q11. WSDOT bidding procedures are a part of the Standard Specifications.
15. What advertising tactics did you employ?
CA Internet, Department of General Services,
FL Conversion of our specifications to Active Voice did not require a change to our advertising policy.
WA Not converted.
16. How did PL affect your advertising schedule?
CA No information available. TBD
FL How did PL affect your advertising schedule?
WA Not converted.
17. How much time is allowed for bidding?
CA Depending on the project, the advertising period is 3 weeks for safety projects, 4 weeks for less than 50 bid items, 5 weeks for 50-100 bid items and 7 weeks a for over 100 bid items.
FL The Department permits 30 days between advertising to opening bids on less complex projects, and 60 days for more complex projects.
IA Four weeks.
WA Two to eight weeks depending on scope, but three to six weeks is most common.
18. Do you use electronic contract documents?
CA Not at this time, we hope to.
FL Yes. Nearly all our documents, from specifications, plans, standards, and specification packages are processed electronically.
IA Yes, the Iowa DOT uses Field Book.
WA Yes & no. WSDOT does provide some bid documents electronically, and faxed addenda are not uncommon. All contract documents are hard copy after the bid period.
19. Do you use electronic bidding?
CA Not at this time, we hope to.
FL Yes. Since 7/05, we have required that bids on construction contracts be submitted electronically.
IA Yes, the Iowa DOT uses Field Book.
WA Yes.
Policy Development
20. How was policy development integrated into specification development?
CA There has been no integration and no coordinated effort. The specifications will probably be completed before policy is converted by the individual functional units.
FL Conversion to Active Voice specifications had no impact on policy development.
IA The Iowa DOT is only converting the Standard Specifications at this time.
WA They are not integrated. They are segregated.
21. Were you able to convert your existing policy documents or did you have to start over?
CA Caltrans will probably attempt to convert its existing policy first, then add new policy, and then reorganize its manuals to follow the chronology of the specifications.
FL n/a
WA WSDOT has been able to convert existing policy document to PL as the policies come due for updates.
22. How did you assure all the PL provisions were covered by your policy development?
CA We will do a side by side comparison of the PL provision, the old specification language, the old policy, and the new policy. Caltrans is also completely reorganizing its contract documents.
FL n/a
WA All of the revised policy documents go through a central contact to make sure that all of the Plain Language provisions are addressed.
23. What policy changes were required?
CA A lot of detail has been stripped out of our old contract specifications. This includes both technical specifications and legal requirements. This content will have to be retained and converted into policy. Rather than reiterate legal provisions the specs now refer directly to the statute. The policy must interpret this content for resident engineers since they are not lawyers.
FL n/a
WA None. WSDOT did not have a formal policy about the style of the policy documents. Nothing to change.
24. How many resources were used and how long did it take to convert your policies and procedures?
CA The Division of Construction estimated it would take two years and $5 million to convert its construction manual to plain language using a consultant. It will probably cost $2 million and take four years to do this work in house.
FL n/a
WA No additional resources were allocated to convert to PL. Conversion is ongoing.
Industry Relations
25. How did industry react to your PL conversion in your state?
CA Industry generally supports contract language that is plain, clear, and concise. Industry has expressed both concern and opposition to this wholesale conversion of the Caltran's specifications. Industry sees this conversion as being very risky since they do not understand all the changes that will be taking place and since they do not have experience with the new plain language.
FL Industry was very receptive to the conversion. Industry groups and associations were a big part of the conversion effort and assisted in many ways. They recognized that any attempt to make our specifications more user friendly would be beneficial to them, to the DOT, and to the travelling public.
IA There has been no adverse reaction to date, however the Iowa DOT shared the reasoning behind the conversion early on and periodically during the process as well as assuring the industry that the conversion is in language only with no content changes.
WA Not converted. Have not consulted with Industry.
26. How was industry input obtained?
CA The Department's office engineer has made presentations to the three big industry associations: Associated General Contractors (AGC), Southern California Contractors Association (SCCA), and the Engineering Underground Contractors Association (EUCA).
FL During conversion to active voice, we followed our specification development procedure, which permits industry personnel to review and comment on specification changes. As each Section of the specifications was converted, it was forwarded to industry groups for review and comment. Changes were highlighted, with deleted text struck through and new text either italicized or redlined. The Florida Transportation Builders Association was a tremendous help by serving as a central point of contact between the DOT and the contracting industry. So Industry was a full partner in the conversion process.
IA The Iowa DOT periodically meets with the Specification Committees of the various industries. The minutes of the Iowa DOT Specification Committee are shared with the construction industry.
WA Not converted. Industry input would be obtained through WSDOT standing committees with AGC of America, Washington Asphalt Paving Association, ACEC (American Counsel of Engineering Companies of Washington), ADSC and others.
27. How has industry responded to implementation?
CA We have not implemented our plain language conversion. We are doing an incremental conversion of our standard specifications.
FL Industry was extremely helpful during conversion and continues to be responsive to the active voice style.
IA No adverse reaction to date.
WA Not converted.
28. Do your contractors work mostly in your state or nationally?
CA By project count, most of our contractors are primarily based in California. By dollar volume, many of the high value jobs are done to national construction firms.
FL Mostly in the State.
IA The Iowa DOT has contractors that work locally, intrastate, and interstate; however most contractors work intrastate.
WA Most are local. A small share goes to the big national companies like Kiewit, Granite, etc.
29. What did you do to get industry to support your PL conversion?
CA We will work closely with industry to implement these specifications. Industry will likely review the specifications, bid book, and policy. This will likely be performed by individual review. Caltrans may form working technical committees if requested by industry.
FL We kept industry involved throughout the conversion process.
IA Periodic communication with the Specification Committees of the various industies thus far.
WA Not yet converted.
30. How do you provide update information?
CA Twice per year, propose change review by experts subject matter, districts and collect all comments this change have been processed in accordance with the Division formal procedure.
FL We publish a workbook of modifications to the Standard Specifications twice annually; once for projects let during January through June, and once for projects let during July through December. These modifications have been processed in accordance with our Specification Development Procedure. While not a formal procedure, the Standard Specifications Book is reprinted approximately every four years.
IA The Iowa DOT holds monthly Specification Committee meetings a part of which is reserved for updates if necessary. Periodic meetings with the Industry are also used for updates. In the future the Weekly Letting Bulletin will be used for updates as Iowa gets closer to the publishing date.
WA All amendments to the WSDOT Standard Specifications and standardized special provisions are identified by the date of issue, and are printed in the bidding documents.
31. Did you publish your Standards fully revised or by transition?
CA Caltrans Standards will be fully revised and released as one. Caltrans Special Provisions will be converted and released after the standards are released. All new specifications are being converted to plain language.
FL Fully revised.
IA The Iowa DOT Standard Specifications are to be published fully. The accompanying specification documents are on target for conversion as well to be published at the same time.
WA Not converted. Standard specs would likely be fully revised. Standardized special provisions would likely be by transition.
32. How do you update your standards?
CA Did Not Answer
FL In accordance with the Specification Development Procedure
IA The Iowa DOT publishes the revisions to standards on the same six month cycle as the specifications.
WA New Standard Specifications are issued biannually in even years. Amendments to Standard Specifications are published every 4 months.
33. How do you track version control for your standards?
CA Did Not Answer
FL We include a revision date, FHWA approval date and an effective letting date on each of the specification modifications.
IA Standards are issued with revision date, revision number, and only twice per year.
WA By date.
34. How did you train your staff?
CA Construction Division will probably have a web based course to explain the general layout and concept of our plain language conversion. We will then have formal adult training for both the specifications and policy.
FL Select staff from the various sections participated in training sessions presented by the Consultant hired to assist in the conversion of the specifications from passive to active voice. Hands on exercises were conducted using a training manual developed specifically for DOT specifications. The State Specifications Office has since developed its own training course which is presented to FDOT employees as requested. We also have developed some Specification Writing Aids which provides guidelines for writing or revising our Standard Specifications. The training course is provided to in-house staff and consultants throughout the state on an informal basis. No formal training has been provided to local agencies. Contractors were involved with the development of the active voice specifications.
IA The Iowa DOT periodically uses the NHI course "Principles of Writing Highway Construction Specifications" and this training was used to kickoff the Imperative Mood - Active Voice conversion.
WA Not yet converted. Most agency specific training is presented by trainers that are agency staff. PL training would likely be from a consultant trainer.
35. How much training did you provide to your staff?
CA Construction Division will probably provide atleast 120 hours of training for each resident engineer and higher person. Inspectors might be able to get by with 60 to 80 hours of training.
FL See No. 34
IA The Iowa DOT has provided the NHI course and plans to provide additional training to the construction industry and field staff once the final draft of the manual is completed.
WA Not yet converted. Significant training will be required.
36. What kind of training did you provide to your staff?
CA Construction Division will probably have a web based course to explain the general layout and concept of our plain language conversion. We will then have formal adult training for both the specifications and policy.
FL See No. 34
IA Training is both internal and external. The NHI course is the highest level of training provided and the Specifications Section also provides training to staff as needed.
WA Not yet converted. Spec writing training will be needed.
37. Did you provide training for local agencies?
CA Many local agencies use Caltrans' contract documents. Caltrans will probably provide training to these local agencies.
IA All our training is open to local agencies.
WA All WSDOT training is open to other agencies.
38. Did you provide training for consultants?
CA Caltrans will probably provide some training for consultants.
FL Yes
IA On an as needed basis training can be provided to consultants.
WA Not yet converted. Not sure if WSDOT would train consultants.
39. Did you provide training for contractors?
CA Caltrans probably will provide some joint training with both contractors and construction staff.
IA Training will be provided to the construction industry in the future.
WA Not yet converted. Not likely to train contractors.
Project Delivery Continuity
40 From inception to publication, how long did it take to create your PL construction contract documents?
CA It will probably take Caltrans 4 to 6 years to convert.
FL It took approximately 1 1/2 years to convert all specifications from passive to active voice and to print the first Standard Specifications Book using this style of writing.
IA The Iowa DOT is only converting the Specification documents at this point. The conversion of the specifications began in 2003 and will be finished in 2008 (approximately 5 years using current staff on a part time basis).
WA Not yet converted.
41. How long did it take to convert the associated manuals?
CA It will probably take the Division of Construction 2 to 5 years to convert.
FL n/a
IA The Iowa DOT will discuss the conversion of associated manuals following the substantial completion of the specification conversion.
WA Not yet converted.
42. Do you have a schedule for publication of your standards?
CA We have a CPM schedule and work plan for our standards conversion.
FL While there is no formal schedule, the Standard Specifications are reprinted approximately every four years.
IA October 2009 for the Standard Specificatinos.
WA New Standard Specifications are published biannually and effective on the first Monday in January of even years. Amendments to the Standard Specifications are published every 4 months.
43. What was your risk to delivery?
CA Projects in process may have to be reworked to convert to the new specs; which would delay project delivery in drive up support costs. Some bidders may pass or build a big risk premium into their bids. We could see a increase in bid protests and construction claims. We could see a big increase in contract change order volume and cost to correct errors in the specs.
FL None
IA Unknown at this point.
WA Not yet converted.
44. Did implementation delay delivery of any projects?
CA It is not implemented yet.
WA Not yet converted. Many commitment dates are legislated, so delays will not be an option.
45. Did implementation have an impact on the final quality of the constructed product?
CA Unknown
IA Unknown at this point.
WA Not yet converted.
46. Did implementation result in an increase of contract claims or arbitration filings?
CA Unknown
FL There has been no formal tracking since conversion to Active Voice.
WA Not yet converted.
47. What process will you use to update your contract documents , construction and design manual?
CA These manuals will need to be supplemented, reworked, and reorganized.
FL We will continue processing our documents in accordance with the Specification Development Procedure.
IA Unknown at this point.
WA Most likely will use a consultant for specifications. Design and Construction manuals will be written in-house, if we convert.
Best Practices and Lessons Learned
48 What lessons will you use for future projects?
CA Not converted.
FL n/a
IA Allowing the timeline for conversion to be too long can cause problems with needing to update both current and draft documents.
WA Not yet converted. Hopefully, lessons shared by other agencies at this Peer Exchange will be valuable to us.
49. How do you track lessons learned?
CA We do an annual Contract Administration Process Evaluation (CAPE) of construction practices, procedures, and policies. Best practices are integrated into revised policy, new guides, and training.
FL n/a
IA Did Not Answer
WA WSDOT has a formal Lessons Learned database that can be viewed at http://eefmapps.wsdot.wa.gov/fmi/xsl/Lessons/Main.xsl?-db=DebriefReport&-lay=LessonWebForm&MonthlyHighlight=Yes&-find
50. How do you communicate lessons learned to staff?
CA Training, Annual Managers and Resident Engineers Meetings, and Construction Policy Directive Memorandums.
FL n/a
IA Did Not Answer
WA Weekly updates to the LL database are transmitted by email.
51. What worked well?
CA Team approach to converting the specifications. We have construction, design, legal, and office engineer in the same room working on this conversion line by line.
FL Conversion of Division II, Construction Details, reduced the amount of text and helped in making these specifications more user friendly. We found that a well written active voice specification provides clear lines of responsibility, direction and expectations.
IA Having a small number of staff involved in the conversion is somewhat beneficial to help eliminate personal style differences.
WA Not yet converted.
52. What needed improvement?
CA We need more resources to complete this conversion faster. Some have expressed concern about the risk of this project to product delivery and have called for a pilot to test the conversion on some smaller jobs. Some have expressed alarm at the loss of technical content in the specifications that will have to be retained in policy. This policy is not a part of the contract, so it is anticipated that an increase in the number of disputes will result.
FL We determined that Divisions I and III of the specifications did not lend themselves to the active voice writing style. There were also some legal concerns with conversion of Division I to Active Voice. We were a bit disappointed with that. So we are migrating back to passive voice in Division I and Division III is written in passive voice.
IA Did Not Answer
WA Not yet converted.
53. Did going through the PL project result change any processes of the design, construction and specifications in your state?
CA Yes. There have been numerous changes to the organization of the contract documents, specification content has been added, and specifications have been clarified.
WA Not yet converted..
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Updated: 07/25/2017
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