Asking government agencies to write in plain English is a reasonable request. But it is not easy to arrange such a task, according to the Center for Plain Language.
Last year a law was passed with the intent of compelling government entities to write in language that people can understand. The Plain Writing Act required agencies to communicate clearly in documents that provide information to the public. That effort was supposed to start last October.
The center has evaluated the results in a report card, the Associated Press reports. Progress is mixed.
The Agriculture Department scored the highest of a dozen agencies, earning an A for fulfilling the laws basic requirements and a B for training staff to write clear prose.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is another story, failing in both endeavors.
Each agency is supposed to have a senior officer responsible for encouraging plain language and a corner of the agency website dedicated to the effort. A process to communicate more effectively with the public is supposed to be under way in each case, whether it is the Defense Department, Environmental Protection Agency or Social Security Administration.
Sponsor of the law to achieve clarity, Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, concluded that we still have a long way to go to make government forms and documents simpler and easier for taxpayers to understand.
Annetta Cheek, chairwoman of the center, has seen improvements, but its very spotty.
An example of what to avoid: The Defense Department once provided a 26-page cookie recipe that covered flow rates of thermoplastics by extrusion plastometer and instructed cooks that the ingredients shall be examined organoleptically.