Sample From Chapter 4 “Acronymphobia”
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is an agency that thrives on the use of acronyms. In fact, acronyms flourish to their greatest heights at the Large and Mid-Size Business Division (LMSB) headquarters in the Mint Building in Washington D.C., where “Mintspeak” crops up in every discussion.
In one of my first meetings, I sat among several IRS career employees in the Mint Building. The discussion leader started by saying that we were meeting on the “ABC issue for the DEF area of the GHI problem.” I raised my hand and said, “Excuse me, would you mind telling me what the ‘ABC issue for the DEF area of the GHI problem’ is?” The leader courteously explained the three acronyms to me while the others in the room squirmed in their chairs. I thanked him.
The leader went on. “The GHI problem has a connection to the JKL and MNO and PQR problems, which we need to solve PDQ.” I raised my hand again and said, “Excuse me, would you mind telling me what ‘JKL’ and ‘MNO’ and ‘PDQ’ stand for? And what is ‘PDQ’?” The leader explained the acronyms, and the old-timers rolled their eyes.
I looked at my watch and realized I had taken up about a quarter of the time scheduled for the meeting.
The leader went on to talk about “STUV” and “WXYZ” issues, but I did not raise my hand again. I might as well have been from Mars. A few days later, though, I was able to turn the tables during introductions at another IRS group meeting. When my turn came, I introduced myself as the “CTM SIA from the San Jose POD.”
Everyone in the room knew that “CTM” stood for Communications, Technology and Media. They also knew that “POD” stood for post of duty (a military term frequently used in the IRS). However, they did not know what “SIA” stood for.
They were perplexed. Here was an acronym that they could not decipher. I explained that “SIA” stood for Senior Industry Advisor. They were relieved. They could now add a new acronym to their list.
Debbie Nolan, then Deputy Commissioner of LMSB and now Commissioner, gave a speech at an LMSB managers’ meeting during my first few months on the job. When it was over she approached me and asked me how I liked the speech. She was grinning.
I replied that I thought it was her usual great speech.
She asked, “Did you notice anything different?”
“I’m not sure,” I responded.
She told me that she had avoided all acronyms because she wanted to be certain that I understood her message.
I appreciated her efforts to go beyond “Mintspeak” in her remarks.
While I have learned the meanings of many IRS acronyms, some still leave me in the dark. But I am not alone. Others, too, are overwhelmed by the prospect of sitting through entire meetings that might as well be conducted in a foreign language.