With so much talk of cost cutting and budget savings, the Social Security Administration is still regularly working to improve services within its means. In the most recent “Annual Performance Plan” (found here: http://www.ssa.gov/budget/2013APP.pdf), the SSA described numerous areas identified for improvement, one of which is simple and straightforward: improving the clarity of notices.
According to the SSA, there are four objectives included in the push for such clarity: (1) improving the readability, clarity, and tone of Supplemental Security Income Post-Eligibility Notices, (2) revamping the Title II Disability Notice System to make it more complete and easier to understand, (3) modernizing the ‘notice architecture,’ so that the agency can implement new or revised language more efficiently and effectively, and (4) incorporating plain language principles in all notices.
“Notices are one of our principal means of communicating with the public,” the plan described. “We send hundreds of millions of notices to the public explaining the programs that we administer. Our notices communicate decisions, payment, and other important information…Our notices must be accurate, easy-to-read, and clearly explain any necessary actions to provide the best customer service.”
To do so, the SSA is undertaking a number of discrete steps in the immediate future. In addition to the above, it is tightening its language writing guidelines in accordance with the Plain Writing Act of 2010. It is developing an ‘easy-to-use’ online Social Security Statement. And it is conducting an analysis of its Enterprise Communication Architecture (an organizational structure designed to bolster agency communication), to determine if notice production can also be improved.
“We apply the principles of open government—transparency, participation, and collaboration—to our notice development process. We also solicit feedback from advocates and other interested persons to provide us with input regarding the content and clarity of our notices.”
Hopefully, this attitude—combined with all these concrete measures—will help Social Security beneficiaries more easily understand the procedures required to successfully acquire and maintain benefits.