USFAS: United States Federal Alphabet Soup

alphabet soupI was poking around the federal government’s web portal looking for something to explore when I noticed “Abbreviations and Acronyms.”

That looked interesting. The link took me off site to something called GovSpeak, a library guide posted by the University of California at San Diego.

So this post is not, as I intended, a look at the information made available by various agencies of the federal government. Instead it highlights the equally valuable resources provided by university libraries.

Appendix A of the U.S. Government Manual is the government’s attempt to collect all of its acronyms in one place. The librarians at UCSD have discovered hundreds more by manually reviewing individual government web sites.

Unlike the manual, which exists only as a PDF, GovSpeak provides direct links to the home page (or best alternative) of whatever department or program the acronym refers to. The library updates the site monthly.

My grandmother collected light verse and pasted it in scrap books along with family pictures and such. When I found GovSpeak, I immediately remembered a couplet:

Aunt Mame was in Washington dragging down pay
From the PDQ and the AAA

American citizens have found amusement in government alphabet soup at least since the Great Depression and all the Roosevelt administration’s multifaceted attempts to deal with it.

At that time, AAA meant  Agricultural Adjustment Act as well as American  Automobile Association (founded in 1902). Today as a federal agency it means Archives of American Art.

So far as I know, there has never been a government agency called PDQ. That acromym has been around since 1875 with the meaning of Pretty Damned Quickly. New Deal opponents used it to mean “Permanent Dole Queuer.”

According to GovSpeak, here’s as close as government agencies get to PDQ today:

PDB Population Dynamics Branch
PDEGEN Program in Developmental Endocrinology and Genetics
PDM Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program
PDN Pediatrics & Developmental Neuroscience Branch | Program in Developmental Neuroscience
PDSD Personnel and Document Security Division

In just five agencies, we see something of the breadth and detail of what government agencies are concerned with. And the variety of information the government makes available to anyone who needs it.

From the AAA example above, we see that acronyms get recycled. At least occasionally, one acronym will do double duty. PDN above is one example, although the two meanings refer to programs of apparently similar scope.

Farther up the same page, I notice PCC—familiar to librarians as the Program for Cooperative Cataloging. It also means Panama Canal Commission.

GovSpeak is so thorough that it retains the former acronyms for agencies and provides cross-references for the changes. It also leaves acronyms and boards that it can’t verify, including the date it couldn’t be verified. That way anyone seeking the meaning of an acronym will at least find something.

Users have two ways of searching the site: an alphabetical listing for people who know the acronym they want to look up and a search box for people who want to find agencies associated with particular keywords. It accommodates the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT.
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