Sunday column: On the administration’s acronym IDEA

Gov. Bill Haslam’s Identification and Development of Educational Acronyms (IDEA) Task Force recently issued its third annual report, listing positive steps taken to expand knowledge of existing governmental acronyms and recommending continued creation of new abbreviations as a means of streamlining state government and enhancing efficiency in communication.

IDEA, created by Executive Order 86 (XO86), works with the Public Safety Coalition (PSC) and other Haslam cabinet groups and task forces in a broad administration effort informally called TASK (Think About Stuff Knowingly). It is chaired by Mark Cate, the governor’s chief of staff (COS), with an executive committee including chairmen of administration-appointed task forces on school funding, health and wellness, services for senior citizens, veterans employment, criminal sentencing and school vouchers.

A motion to formalize TASK as an acronym was reportedly defeated at the last IDEA conference. The group did set up a subcommittee to review occasional acronym misunderstandings reported to the panel that will be designated as FORCE (Frequently Observed Reading Comprehension Errors).

An excerpt from an IDEA news release:

Acronym lists are now publicly available for five departments of state government as part of the Public Enlightenment Initiative (PIE).

“Tennessee has become a national leader in acronym creation, identification and development (ACID),” Gov. Bill Haslam said. “Every acronym reduces paperwork, eliminating the need for state employees to write out a full title or explanation. That lowers the cost of doing government business. Most businesses employ abbreviations and we are proud that our top-to-bottom review is constantly creating new acronym and abbreviation opportunities as part of making government more open and transparent.”

Cate praised Haslam’s leadership in new acronym areas, including the innovative naming of legislative initiatives. As an example, he cited the administration’s reform of state civil service rules, the “Tennessee Excellence Accountability and Management” (TEAM) Act, which has allowed the Department of Human Resources (DHR) to create a new employee evaluation mechanism known as SMART (Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Time-Bound).

“When you have an acronym TEAM, you can then be SMART,” said Cate. “The governor and his IDEA have been great for our state.”

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) lists 60 or so acronyms on its website, starting alphabetically with Association of American Railroads (AAR) and concluding with vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Curiously, it does not list TDOT — assuming perhaps that anybody looking at the list already knows what that stands for. It does list TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation).

TDEC, meanwhile, has a list of more than 200 acronyms, starting with Asbestos-Containing Material (ACM) and winding up with ZEV (zero emissions vehicle). TDOT is among them. The alphabetical list includes a couple dozen or so on the “T” list, from T&E (Threatened and Endangered species) to TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency). Some examples are rather obscure to the general public — LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and NTU (Nephelometric Turbidity Units). An RA is the regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and an STP is a sewage treatment plant.

Oh, and SCORE doesn’t necessary mean that business-oriented education outfit founded by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (State Collaborative on Reforming Education). Within TDEC, SCORE means Small Community Outreach and Communication.

And, OK, there’s not really an IDEA within the Haslam administration’s TASKing. Acronym identification has apparently progressed as a matter of independent departmental initiative without gubernatorial guidance, the thought being that people ought to have some notion of what bureaucrats are saying.

Otherwise, well, there’s a rumor of a confidential political task force — START (Second Term Action Reversal and Transition) — that will recommend the governor actually advocate in the face of controversy, creating acronyms of action rather than avoidance.

Note: This is a column written for Sunday’s News Sentinel, also available HERE. There are a lot of acronyms in state government, some helpfully listed online by various government departments. A sampler:

TDOT acronyms are HERE.

DIDDS acronyms are HERE.

TennCare acronyms (pdf) are HERE