The federal government is getting modestly better at speaking plainly. That's the conclusion of a non-profit organization that issued its annual report Tuesday on how federal agencies are communicating with the public.
The Center for Plain Language, in conjunction with Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, released results from its fifth annual survey, which grades agencies on the clarity of a sample of documents. The report originated with legislation sponsored by former Rep. Bruce Braley, an Iowa Democrat, and signed into law by President Obama in 2010.
"If you think about red tape, you probably automatically think about government forms,” said Susan Kleimann, who chairs the Center for Plain Language. “This year, the Center reviewed some of the most used government forms. Good news. Many agencies are using plain language and information design skillfully in their forms."
The center gave top grades to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor. All received grades of A+.
The Justice Department got the lowest grade, with a C. The State Department made the greatest improvements, going from a C to an A, the report said.
The Agriculture Department got an A- grade.
Loebsack, who stepped in to help announce the results after Braley left Congress, said Tuesday he's long believed in greater transparency and simplicity in the way government communicates with people. "Federal agencies have a responsibility to provide clear and precise communications, but for years we've been bogged down by bureaucratic gibberish," he said.
The center said it evaluated 26 forms submitted by 18 agencies for its 2016 report. Nine improved over the previous year, while seven declined. Two remained the same. No agency got a D or an F, the center said.
The center evaluated documents for such things as writing style, information design and presentation, understanding the audience and use of pictures and graphics.