'A Failure to Communicate'? Administration Tries to Explain Financial Crisis

"There are terms on here I've never seen before and I'm an economics major," said Jonathan Mayo of Washington. "I think it's a little technical. I think a Web site that used more layman's terms would be better. Like this one: 'AGP, section 102 of EESA.' I mean, I don't even know what that is. What is that?"

But Mayo still called the Web site "a good start." He warned that "most people don't understand the crisis -- they know there's a problem, but they don't know why the problem exists."

"No matter if you're in the financial industry or Joe Citizen, you need help understanding it," said Saralee Botler of Alexandria, Va.

A treasury spokesperson said the website is the latest part of the department's effort to help people understand the complicated financial crisis. "Our latest website, financialstability.gov, does help explain the steps we are taking to revive the economy," the spokesman said. "We know it can improve and we're committed to that. In the short weeks since inauguration, Treasury has rolled out a comprehensive five part plan to address the crisis," the spokesperson told ABC News.

And Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will lead the education effort.

"The Secretary makes it a point reach out to the American people through radio, TV, and print media to help the public understand our plans to bring about economic recovery. It's a complicated mess, but we are taking real steps to help people better understand," the treasury spokesperson said.

In recent weeks, Geithner has repeatedly appeared before Congress and the American people to speak about the crisis. In just the last 10 days alone, he has appeared on all three Sunday morning talk shows, as well as other television appearances. Since taking office in late January, Geithner has also testified on Capitol Hill nearly ten times.

In speeches and press conferences, President Obama himself has tried to help Americans understand the situation.

"The problem is he's got to convince the nation that he's got the economic expertise to understand what's going on, and to do that he's got to use the technical terms correctly," noted Lakoff. "At the same time, he's got to try to explain what's happening and the policy to ordinary people. That's a hard job."

In a joint address to Congress Feb. 24, before discussing the credit crisis, Obama said, "I want to speak plainly and candidly about this issue tonight, because every American should know that it directly affects you and your family's well-being."

"He has made an effort to do that, but I don't think he's succeeded," said Lakoff. "It's very strange because President Obama is the best communicator we've had as president for a very, very long time, and the people who ran his campaign were very good communicators, but they don't seem to have good communicators about economics."

Treasury Encouraged to Improve Communication

In recent weeks, members of Congress and watchdog groups have prodded Treasury to communicate more clearly with the American people.

The Government Accountability Office warned this week that the department must improve its communications and, if they fail, then Congress may be reluctant to give the department more.

"Treasury continues to struggle with developing an effective overall communication strategy that is integrated into TARP operations," the GAO said in a report. "Without such a strategy, Treasury may face challenges, should it need additional funding for the program."

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