The Washington Post

Plain writing report card says VA flunks


When it comes to speaking plainly, Veterans Affairs doesn’t make the grade.

Actually, it made two grades — double Fs — in a report card on how well selected agencies have implemented the Plain Writing Act, which is one year old this month. It is designed to foster clear communications in government documents.

The Agriculture Department was the star pupil, with a grade of A/B.

The report card was issued by the nonprofit Center for Plain Language, which encourages the use of plain language in government and business operations.

“Unless federal agencies are held accountable, they won’t implement the changes required by the Plain Writing Act,” said Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), sponsor of the act. “The mixed results of the first-ever Plain Language Report Card show that we still have a long way to go to make government forms and documents simpler and easier for taxpayers to understand. Some federal agencies have embraced the Plain Writing Act, and others haven’t. Until these grades are all A-plus, we’re going to keep holding bureaucrats’ feet to the fire.”

The first grade represents how well agencies have done in such areas as complying with the basic requirements of the act, which includes identifying a lead person to coordinate implementation of the law.

The second grade covers related activities, including training and the types of documents covered an agency’s plain writing plan.

“This first Plain Writing Report Card helps ensure that government agencies are following both the letter and the spirit of the Act,” said Annetta L. Cheek, chair of the Center for Plain Language. “We hope to make this an annual event where we grade different agencies each year.”

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.

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