TN 4 (03-17)

NL 00610.110 Notice Language Clearance Process

Notice language clearance is the approval process for all new or revised notice language. It provides clear, consistent procedures to ensure that agency notices meet fixed standards and addresses the readability, content, appearance, tone, and use of a notice.

The agency uses a team approach to clear new or revised notice language. Staff involved in policy, legal sufficiency, accuracy, operations, communications, and systems have important roles in developing and clearing notice language. This team approach ensures that all essential components have input in notice language. The notice clearance process described in the following subsections applies to creating and revising language used in national notices.

A. Notice Language Clearance Process Responsibilities

Many different components have roles and responsibilities in the notice clearance process. Sometimes these responsibilities fall outside the responsibilities normally associated with that component. For example, components outside of the Office of Retirement and Disability Policy are responsible for fraud and direct deposit policy. Outlined below are the notice language clearance roles and responsibilities for individuals and components.

The “Identifier”: The identifier is any person or component that identifies the need for new or revised notice language. The identifier refers notice issues to the appropriate policy component or content owner. The identifier can also collaborate with the policy component on suggested new or revised notice language.

Policy: The component responsible for policy ensures that the content of the new or revised notice language adheres to agency policy. This component identifies and helps to resolve any policy issues that arise concerning the purpose and content of the notice. Examples of components responsible for various policy areas include:

  1. Office of Retirement and Disability Policy (ORDP), Office of Income Security Programs (OISP) for non-disability policy, including Retirement and Survivors Insurance and Supplemental Security Income policy;

  2. Office of Retirement and Disability Policy (ORDP), Office of Disability Programs (ODP) for disability policy;

  3. Office of Analytics, Review, and Oversight (OARO), Office of Anti-Fraud Programs (OAFP) for fraud policy;

  4. Office of Budget, Finance, and Management (OBFM), Office of Financial Policy and Operations (OFPO), Office of Payment and Recovery Policy (OPRP) for checks, direct deposit, and payment recovery policy; and

  5. Office of Analytics, Review, and Oversight (OARO) for hearings and Appeals Council review policy.

The “Content Owner”: The content owner is the component that owns the content of the notice language. The content owner drafts the notice language, prepares the notice clearance package, obtains concurrence from other components, and works with Systems to implement the final notice language. The content owner is usually a policy component.

Systems: The Systems components implement required changes to various notice-generating systems. Systems will also provide information on the impact and any outcomes that result from proposed notice language changes. Systems components determine whether or not they can implement the requested changes using existing systems maintenance resources or whether the changes need approval through the current process for managing, assigning, and investing in agency Information Technology resources. Examples of systems components are:

  1. Office of IT Enterprise Business Support (OITEBS) for Title II, Title XVI, Aurora (the processing center manual notice system), and Special Notice Option notice systems;

  2. Office of IT Programmatic Business Support (OITPBS) for disability and Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) notice systems; and

  3. Office of Retirement and Disability Policy (ORDP), Office of Income Security Programs (OISP), Notices and Strategic Planning Staff (NSPS), Notice Improvement Staff, for the Document Processing System (the field office manual notice system).

Operations: Operational components represent front-line personnel who have direct contact with the public. Examples of components with operational responsibilities are:

  1. Office of Public Service and Operations Support (OPSOS) and the Office of Electronic Services and Technology (OEST) for field offices, teleservice centers, and processing centers;

  2. Office of Disability Determinations (ODD) for State disability determination offices; and

  3. Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) for hearing offices, national hearings centers, and the Appeals Council.

Office of General Counsel, Office of Program Law ensures the legal sufficiency and accuracy of the proposed new or revised notice language.

Office of Anti-Fraud Programs (OAFP) reviews non-standard fraud-related language. For the standard fraud language we currently use in notices, see NL 00790.100.

Office of Communications provides Spanish language translation of approved notice language.

Office of Retirement and Disability Policy, Office of Income Security Programs, Notices and Strategic Planning Staff (NSPS) reviews notice language to ensure that the language meets notice standards for tone, clarity, structure, and readability. NSPS reviews proposed notice changes to ensure that duplication of effort does not occur, updates notices and notice language for the Document Processing System (DPS), and may assist with drafting language and preparing notice clearance packages.

Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs (OLCA), Office of Regulations and Reports Clearance (ORRC) determines if Office of Management and Budget (OMB) clearance approval is required. ORRC is the liaison between OMB and SSA.

B. Initiating new or revised notice language

Most often, a policy component identifies the need for new or revised notice language. However, any component may recognize the need for a notice change and propose a new notice, new language, or revision to existing notice language. Congress and the courts can also dictate the need for new or changed notices based on their actions or decisions.

When you identify the need for new or revised notice language, you should refer the issue, along with any proposed language, background information, and rationale, to the policy component that owns the content of the language (the “content owner”). The content owner decides whether the new or revised notice language is necessary. The content owner has final authority on whether to clear and implement any new or revised language.

C. Clearing new or revised notice language

Once the content owner decides that new or revised notice language is needed and appropriate, the content owner must clear the notice language using the notice language clearance process.

NOTE: If the new or revised notice language involves multiple content owners, the owners collectively decide who acts as the lead content owner (or “designee”) for notice language clearance.

The content owner (or designee) will initially decide which of the following two methods to use to clear the notice language:

  • the Abbreviated Notice Language Clearance Process (used for language that is minor and not sensitive), or

  • the Full Notice Language Clearance Process (used for language that is either more than minor or is sensitive).

The content owner or designee will decide which process to use based on whether the notice language is or is not minor and is or is not sensitive.

For more information on the Abbreviated Process and definitions for minor and sensitive, see NL 00610.110D in this section.

For more information on the Full Process, see NL 00610.110F in this section.

D. The Abbreviated Notice Language Clearance Process

The Abbreviated Process does not require preparing a notice clearance package. The Abbreviated Process does require that you obtain approval from the Office of General Counsel (OGC) and the Notices and Strategic Planning Staff (NSPS) in the Office of Income Security Programs (OISP). OGC reviews the proposed change to ensure there are no legal implications. NSPS reviews the scope of the proposed change and uses the criteria in this section to decide whether the Abbreviated Process is appropriate. NSPS may also review the proposed change to ensure the language meets agency notice guidelines.

Use the Abbreviated Notice Language Clearance Process to clear new or revised notice language that is minor and is not sensitive.

IMPORTANT: Never use the Abbreviated Process for language that is not minor or is sensitive.

We define new or revised language as:

  1. minor if the change is small in size, volume, or importance, and,

  2. sensitive if it has attracted or has the potential to attract media, political, advocacy group, or widespread public attention because of the nature of the issue.

New or revised language is minor and not sensitive if it:

  • involves adding or revising only a few words, phrases, or sentences in an existing notice, and,

  • involves a small volume of notices, and,

  • does not involve a significant change in a key policy, and,

  • is not compelled by a change in the law or legal precedent, and,

  • is not likely to cause media, political, or widespread public attention.

Examples of new or revised language that are minor and not sensitive include but are not limited to:

  • updating notices to reflect a change in field office hours,

  • removing or updating inaccurate fill in choices to conform to policy,

  • deleting obsolete language,

  • revising language to meet plain language guidelines or readability goals with no change to the policy content of the language,

  • removing passive voice,

  • correcting errors in punctuation,

  • updating language, language generation, or language location in one notice or notice system to match existing language, language generation, or language location in another notice or notice system.

E. Steps in the Abbreviated Notice Language Clearance Process

Follow these steps to request the necessary review and approval under the Abbreviated Notice Clearance Process:

  1. Send an email to ^OGC OPL Controls and copy ^OISP NSPS Controls. Include the wording “Abbreviated Notice Clearance Review” as part of the email subject line. Ask OGC to review and concur with the new or revised notice language. If OGC does not concur, resolve any issues with OGC until OGC concurs. Include the following with your email request:

    • information explaining why the new or revised language is needed and when it will be used,

    • an estimate of the number of notices affected by the new or revised language

    • a sample notice with the new or revised language highlighted,

    • any currently existing (prior) language, fill-in choices, and Universal Text Identifier (UTI) name for any UTI being revised, replaced, or deleted, and

    • the new or revised language with all fill-in choices.

  2. After OGC concurs, send an email to ^OISP NSPS Controls. Ask NSPS to approve use of the Abbreviated Process to clear the notice language. Include the information sent to OGC and OGC’s concurrence.

  3. NSPS reviews the request and decides whether to approve use of the Abbreviated Process. If NSPS approves the request, NSPS will send an email to the content owner or designee granting approval. If NSPS denies the request, NSPS will send an email to the content owner or designee explaining the reason(s) for the denial. If NSPS denies the request, the content owner or designee must follow the Full Notice Clearance Process described in NL 00610.110F, in this section.

  4. If NSPS approves use of the Abbreviated Process, the content owner or designee works with Systems to implement the notice language. The content owner or designee sends the original request containing the language and background information, NSPS’s approval, OGC’s concurrence, and any other necessary information to the Systems component(s) that need to implement the language. Systems needs the following additional information to implement the language:

    • a complete explanation of when to generate and how to use the language (in which notice(s), under what situations),

    • where the language should appear in the notice (i.e., the order of paragraphs),

    • a three-character UTI subject category name for any new Target Notice Architecture language followed by XXX (for example, REFXXX, APLXXX, BENXXX). NOTE: Systems will assign the remaining characters needed to complete the full UTI name (for example, REF203, APLC03, BENH01). You can find existing UTIs and a list of UTI subject category names in the Language Development Facility (LDF). For some links to LDF and UTI information, see NL 00610.110N, in this section.

    • other relevant information including target dates, implementation plans, funding information, and, for the Document Processing System (DPS), name(s) or title(s) for the notice template(s).

    Send Title II, Title XVI, Aurora, and Special Notice Option language to the Office of IT Enterprise Business Support (OITEBS), disability language to the Office of IT Programmatic Business Support (OITPBS), and Document Processing System (DPS) language to NSPS. For mailbox addresses, see NL 00610.110L, in this section.

    NOTE: Systems sends the final clearance package to the Office of Communications Planning and Technology, Office of Electronic Communications (OEC) for Spanish language translation. For information about Spanish language translation, see NL 00610.110J, in this section.

F. The Full Notice Language Clearance Process

You must use the Full Process to clear new or revised notice language when the language is either sensitive or is not a minor change. For definitions and examples of the terms minor and sensitive, see NL 00610.110D, in this section.

REMEMBER: You can only use the Abbreviated Process if the new or revised language is minor and not sensitive.

The Full Process involves preparing and circulating a notice clearance package to mandatory and optional components to get approval for the notice language. For a list of the mandatory components, see NL 00610.110L, in this section. For information and a list of examples of optional components, see NL 00610.110M, in this section.

Examples of changes that require use of the Full Process are:

  • Implementing a court decision

  • Adding notice language based on a new law or regulation

  • Developing and issuing a new notice

  • Adding or revising language for a new situation that does not currently exist

  • Providing information about a controversial topic (such as same-sex marriage or National Instant Criminal Background Checks)

  • Making more than a few changes to an existing language paragraph

G. Steps in the Full Notice Language Clearance Process

The Full Notice Language Clearance Process has two different procedures. The procedure you must use depends on whether language in the package is or is not sensitive. The content owner or designee decides whether notice language is or is not sensitive. For information on how to decide if language is sensitive, see NL 00610.110D, in this section.

Under the Full Notice Clearance Process:

  • language that is not sensitive and not minor needs only staff level concurrence. Follow steps 1 through 4 and 6 for packages that need staff level concurrence.

  • sensitive language, whether it is or is not minor, needs Associate Commissioner (AC) level approval. Follow steps 1 through 6 for packages that need AC-level approval.

EXCEPTION: yearly cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) notices need approval at the AC-level and from the Office of the Commissioner.

Follow these steps for the Full Process:

  1. Draft the notice language and prepare a notice clearance package. If the new or revised language is complex or involves more than one policy area, consider assembling a workgroup to help draft the clearance package. There is no set format for a clearance package. NSPS can provide guidance and examples to aid the content owner. The clearance package should include:

    • information explaining why the new or revised language is needed and when it will be used,

    • an estimate of the number of notices affected by the new or revised language

    • a sample notice with the new or revised language highlighted,

    • any currently existing (prior) language, fill-in choices, and Universal Text Identifier (UTI) name for any UTI being revised, replaced, or deleted,

    • the new or revised language with all fill-in choices,

    • a reading grade level for all new or revised UTIs,

    • a three-character UTI subject category name for any new Target Notice Architecture language followed by “XXX” (for example, REFXXX, APLXXX, BENXXX), and the name of any existing UTI being revised, replaced, or obsoleted. NOTE: Systems will assign the remaining characters needed to complete the full UTI name (for example, REF203, APLC03, BENH01). You can find existing UTIs and a list of UTI subject category names in the Language Development Facility (LDF). For some links to LDF and UTI information, see NL00610.110N, in this section.

  2. Once your clearance package is complete:

    • Decide on a due date for the response. To decide on a due date, consider the complexity and size of the package, and the preferred or required implementation date. For example, if no immediate implementation is needed, a small package (less than 8 pages) that does not contain complex additions or changes, should generally have a due date no less than seven to ten workdays in the future. A large package or a package that contains complex additions or changes should have a due date of at least 20 to 30 workdays in the future.

    • Share the clearance package at the staff level with all mandatory components and any optional components that might have an interest or concern with the new or revised language. Email the package to the component control mailboxes, and if desired, to any staff-level contacts. For a list of all mandatory, and examples of optional components, see NL 00610.110L and NL 00610.110M, in this section.

  3. Consider and resolve any comments and concerns received from the reviewing components. If you revise the clearance package based on the comments, re-send the revised package back to the reviewing components until you have concurrence, or you escalate the issue for resolution.

  4. If the clearance package does not contain sensitive language, and all staff level reviewers concur, the package does not need any further approval. Go to step 6. If the notice clearance package contains sensitive language, follow the instructions in step 5 to obtain AC-level approval.

  5. For a clearance package that contains sensitive language, request AC-level approval. Send the package to the ACs of all mandatory and any optional components. You may need to re-send the package more than once until you obtain AC-level approval from all components. After you obtain AC-level approval, go to step 6.

  6. After getting the required staff-level concurrence and any required AC-level approval, the content owner, or designee, works with Systems to implement the notice language.

    The content owner or designee sends the final clearance package, the approvals, and any other necessary information to the Systems component(s) that need to implement the language. Systems needs the following additional information to implement the language:

    • a complete explanation of when to generate and how to use the language (in which notice(s), under what situations),

    • where the language should appear in the notice (i.e., the order of paragraphs),

    • other relevant information including target dates, implementation plans, funding information, and for the Document Processing System (DPS), name(s) or title(s) for the notice template(s).

    Send Title II, Title XVI, Aurora, and Special Notice Option language to the Office of IT Enterprise Business Support (OITEBS), disability language to the Office of IT Programmatic Business Support (OITPBS), and Document Processing System (DPS) language to NSPS. For mailbox addresses, see NL 00610.110L, in this section.

    NOTE: Systems sends the final clearance package to the Office of Communications Planning and Technology, Office of Electronic Communications (OEC) for Spanish language translation. For information about Spanish language translation, see NL 00610.110J, in this section.

H. Concurrence Not Obtained for the New or Revised Notice Language

Sometimes you cannot resolve issues or conflicts and obtain concurrence for the clearance package at the required clearance level. If this uncommon event occurs, escalate the package to the next higher level to resolve.

If you cannot obtain staff-level concurrence, escalate the package and request (AC) level approval. Send the package by email to the ACs of all the reviewing components. You may need to send the package out more than once to obtain the needed approval on the new or revised language.

If you cannot obtain AC level approval, explain why, and refer the package to the AC for the Office of Income Security Programs (OISP) who will decide if further escalation is necessary.

I. Office of Management and Budget Notice Language Clearance

At times, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) needs to provide OMB approval before we can implement new or revised notice language. This situation usually occurs when we use the notice to collect information from ten or more individuals.

NOTE: If you are not sure whether you need OMB clearance, contact the Office of Regulations and Reports Clearance (ORRC), in the Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs (OLCA), as soon as you begin the notice clearance process.

If OMB approval is necessary, obtain the needed clearance through ORRC. For detailed information on OMB clearance go to the Center for Reports Clearance at http://crc.ssahost.ba.ssa.gov/.

J. Spanish Notice Language

Some notice systems (for example, the Title XVI automated and the Document Processing System) produce notices in both English and Spanish language versions. In these situations, the Systems component implementing the notice language obtains a Spanish language translation for the final notice language. Systems will complete the online Translation Request Form found at http://ocomm.ba.ad.ssa.gov/forms/ocpt/oec/mls/translations/ to request translation from the Multilanguage Services staff, Office of Electronic Communication (OEC), in the Office of Communications Planning and Technology (OCPT).

K. Post-clearance Steps

Once the new or revised language is final, the content owner is responsible for the following actions:

  1. Notifying users that the new or revised language is available. Prepare an Administrative Message (AM), Emergency Message (EM), or a Program Operations Manual System (POMS) transmittal to notify users.

  2. Updating Program Operations Manual System (POMS) for manual notice language and for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) automated notice language. (Systems is responsible for documenting POMS for automated notice language other than SSI.)

    For information on updating POMS, go to the Policy Writer's Toolkit. NOTE: Updating POMS requires preparing a draft version of a proposed POMS transmittal, known as an Intercomponent Review Draft (IRD), and sending the IRD out for agency components’ review and comment. Sometimes, it is possible to waive the POMS IRD or to shorten the required comment timeframe for notice language cleared through the Notice Language Clearance Process. The appropriate Operations policy component (the Office of Public Services and Operations Support (OPSOS), the Office of Central Operations (OCO), the Office of Disability Determinations (ODD), or the Office of Electronic Services and Technology (OEST)) reviews and approves requests for waiver of the full IRD process. To request an IRD waiver, see the instructions in the Policy Writer’s Toolkit at PI 00305.028 The Intercomponent Review Draft (IRD).

  3. Informing the Office of Media Management (OMM) if the notice language changes the page count for any notice produced under a printing contract. Changes in the page count could affect the print contract.

  4. Sending the final notice clearance package to NSPS for documentation purposes. Send the package by email to ^OISP NSPS Controls.

L. Mandatory Components and Mailboxes for the Full Notice Clearance Process

Under the Full Notice Clearance Process, you must send notice clearance packages to certain mandatory components. These mandatory components are:

  1. the Office of General Counsel (OGC), and

  2. the Office of Public Service and Operations Support (OPSOS), and

  3. the Notices and Strategic Planning Staff (NSPS), and

  4. any Policy component(s) with responsibility for the policy contained in the new or revised notice language, and

  5. any Systems component(s) that must implement the new or revised notice language.

Under the Full Notice Clearance Process, send clearance packages to the:

  • Office of the General Counsel (OGC) - ^OGC OPL Controls,

  • Office of Public Service and Operations Support (OPSOS) - ||DCO OPSOS,

  • Notices and Strategic Planning Staff (NSPS) - ^OISP NSPS Controls.

    NOTE: NSPS reviews all notice language for notice improvement and plain language. NSPS also serves as a systems component responsible for creating and updating notices and notice language for the Document Processing System (DPS).

Under the Full Notice Clearance Process, you must also send the clearance package to each Policy and Systems component with responsibility for the content and the implementation of the new or revised notice language. Use the information below to decide which Policy and Systems Component(s) have responsibility:

  • Policy component for non-disability and Medicare is the Office of Income Security Programs - ^OISP Controls,

  • Policy component for disability is the Office of Disability Policy - ^ODP Controls,

  • Policy component for financial policy, including direct deposit, is the Office of Finance: ^OFPO OAC ,

  • Policy component for Employment and Work Incentives for the Disabled is the Office of Research, Demonstration, and Employment Support: ^ORDES Controls,

  • Systems component for Title II, Title XVI, and Special Notice Options is the Office of IT Enterprise Business Support (OITEBS) - ^OITEBS Controls

  • Systems component for disability systems is the Office of IT Programmatic Business Support (OITPBS) - ^OITPBS Controls

  • System Component for Aurora and the Document Processing System (DPS) is the Office of Enterprise Information Systems (OEIS) - ^OEIS Controls

M. Optional Components for the Notice Clearance Process

Optional components are any other pertinent components that may have an interest or concern about the new or revised notice language. Some examples of optional components and their control mailboxes are:

  • Office of Analytics, Review, and Oversight, Office of Anti-Fraud Programs - ^DCARO OAFP Controls for clearance packages involving non-standard fraud language and anti-fraud policy and procedures. For the standard fraud language currently used in notices, see NL 00790.110.

  • Office of Electronic Services and Technology - ||DCO OEST for changes that involve electronic services, and notices used in field offices, teleservice centers, and processing centers;

  • Office of Communications – ^DCCOMM Controls for changes that involve agency public information and public affairs issues, such as public outreach notices;

  • Office of Disability Adjudication and Review – |||ODAR OCALJ DFP for changes that involve appeals, hearings offices, and national hearings centers;

  • Office of International Programs – ^OIP Controls for changes that involve foreign issues, such as totalization agreements;

  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) – for all changes that include Medicare and Medicaid issues. The Office of Earnings, Enumeration, and Medicare Policy (OEEMP) in the Office of Income Security Programs is the agency liaison for CMS. Coordinate contact with CMS through the Medicare team in OEEMP.

N. References

  • Find information on language readability and how to determine readability scores at NL 00610.020.

  • Find Modernized Claims Systems (MCS) Universal Text Identifiers (UTIs) at NL 00725.005A.

  • Find a list of UTI subject category names in the Language Development Facility (LDF) at https://sso.ba.ssa.gov/ldf/SubjectCategory.do.

  • Find current English and Spanish notice language in the LDF at http://policynet.ba.ssa.gov/ldfsearch.nsf.

  • To request a Spanish translation, use the Translation Request Form at http://ocomm.ba.ad.ssa.gov/forms/ocpt/oec/mls/translations/.


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0900610110
NL 00610.110 - Notice Language Clearance Process - 10/12/2017
Batch run: 10/12/2017
Rev:10/12/2017