A new report on compliance with the Plain Writing Act shows that 10 years after enactment of that law, many agencies still are not in compliance with its requirements, although the assessment of their written products was more positive.
The latest report card by the Center for Plain Language, assessing 21 Cabinet departments and large independent agencies, gave failing grades for organizational compliance—which measures the staffing, training and public reporting requirements of the law—to Commerce, HUD, Interior, Transportation, Treasury, EPA and SBA, while VA rated a D. On the other end, Defense, DHS, Archives and SSA received an A+ and Energy, Education, HHS, Justice rated an A.
However, no agencies failed in the assessment of writing quality, which measures ease of finding, using and understanding information on agency websites. Only HHS received an A while CFPB and VA received an A-, but only Energy and HUD graded as low as Ds.
This year’s assessment focused in particular on the agency’s main page related to the Coronavirus and the page referenced the most office in a search for urgent help on a topic under the agency’s jurisdiction. Overall, it found that those pages “give prominence and far too much space to agency achievements” rather than on information the public needs and “are cluttered with acronyms, jargon, and marketing language.”
It cited as positive examples a CFPB page for showing “how an agency can provide important Coronavirus information that is not focused on health,” the State Department’s passport application page and an Interior page regarding how to purify water.