Feb 4, 2015

Social Security Gets A Good Report Card

     The Center for Plain Language has issued its 2014 report card and Social Security got an "A" for compliance with the Plain Language Act (yes, plain language is required by statute), an "A" for writing and a "B" for information design. Only the Department of Homeland Security and the Securities and Exchange Commission scored as high. No agency got an "A" for information design.
     Social Security isn't being shy about telling people that it thinks it's doing a good job. From the Baltimore Sun:
"Some organizations have a safety culture because it's very critical to their mission," said Steven Patrick, associate commissioner of the SSA's Office of Public Inquiries, a leader in the agency's effort to communicate clearly. "In many ways I think of plain language as critical to our mission." ...

Patrick said an eight-person team at Social Security screens a wide range of communications, including marketing materials, forms and even letters the agency sends to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Officials also use software to analyze writing samples for style and clarity.
     Now, if the agency could just rewrite the letter it's been sending to claimants after they request a hearing, the letter that unintentionally misleads many of them into believing that their hearing is coming up in 20 days. How many decades has that letter been in use?


Anonymous said...

If we could only have back the time over the years trying to explain this letter to the clients when they call after receiving it: "No, this letter does not mean that your hearing will be in 20 days." Everyone I've ever spoken to at ODAR offices about this letter hates it, too.

Anonymous said...

not everybody at ODAR hates this letter.

While the letter could be clearer, it is not misleading. It states exactly what will happen. Unfortunately, it is not always interpreted correctly.

Anonymous said...

The Center for Plain Language ought to look at letters related to overpayments and waivers -- contradictory information, promised information missing, unclear statements, etc.

Anonymous said...

@ 1:05...bad information is different than confusing language.

Remember the adage...sh** in = sh** out. Let's not confuse the issue.

Anonymous said...

I agree that some forms could be improved. In particular, the series of letters that come when a claimant wins concurrent claims (SSD and SSI) are confusing. I have to tell clients "You're going to get a series of letters. They are going to be confusing and seem to contradict each other. Don't get worried, give me a call and I will explain them."

However, I have to praise SSA for doing a good job overall considering the complexity of the rules. I particularly find the articles for the public on the SSA.GOV website to be very good. It's rare that we praise the administration on this blog and it deserves credit on this count.