Federal Manager's Daily Report

Agency compliance with plain writing standards slipped overall from a B to a C in a watchdog organization’s latest assessment, with four deemed as failing–Commerce, HUD, Transportation and Treasury–at the same time as 10 received an A+ grade.

None were deemed failures in the Center for Plan Language’s other main assessment category, writing quality, although DHS and HUD were assigned Ds and Treasury only a D+. On the other end, Agriculture, SSA and SBA scored at least an A- in both categories.

The organizational compliance ratings were based on staffing, communication, and training under the Plain Writing Act while the writing grade was based on assessments of an agency’s home page and most-visited page.

The group cited turnover of employees in key positions as a main reason for the slippage, saying that of 13 agencies “where turnover spiked, nine declined in organizational compliance, including three that failed it. Conversely, of the 10 agencies that retained a plain language official, eight maintained or improved in organizational compliance.”

“Agencies forgot a plain language principle – focus on your audience. On too many homepages, self-promotional news crowded out tasks and information for users, while jargon and acronyms stayed entrenched,” it added.

The group cited as positive examples the SBA and Consumer Finance Protection Bureau home pages; the SSA “My Account” site; DoD’s TRICARE” site; and USDA’s “Choose My Plate” site.