Alphabet soup with a side of name drops

When I started working for the OBSERVER, Harry Watters, who served on the Brocton Board of Education, offered me assistance in a way that showed kindness to me as well as understanding and respect for the public. Because I was a new reporter and didn’t know anyone in the room, I was scrambling to identify people. I was responsible for photos as well as for writing a coherent story.

Watters offered his hand, introduced himself and asked if I understood all the educational terms and acronyms.

There was one that confused me. He gave me the definition, and went on to say if I ever had a problem I was to ask. “Sometimes we forget people aren’t familiar with all these terms,” he said.

It’s easy to get caught up in alphabet soup and jargon. I know first-hand since I worked in a UI (unemployment insurance) office before the change to a call center. I gave BRIs (benefit rights interviews), took OCs, ACs, and CCs (original claims, additional claims, and continued claims), and made NMDs (non-monetary determinations) including VQ’s, NA, NC, NTU, and FTR (voluntary quit, not available, not capable, not totally unemployed and failure to report). There were many more acronyms. Although I stopped working with unemployment insurance in 1997, I still have some friends with whom I can reminisce using the special language we understand.

But my first supervisor stressed that I should not talk to those we served in this language. “How are they supposed to know what an OC or an AC is?” he asked.

Indeed, even if the words original claim and additional claim were used, how would someone new to the system know the difference? This supervisor felt that it was our job to serve the claimants who came into the office, to make sure they understood their rights and responsibilities and to make our decisions in an unbiased way after making our best effort to find out the facts. We were also to avoid dealing with claims filed by relatives or close friends.

When I left unemployment insurance because I was promoted, I entered into the world of grants and consultants. There was a new bowl of alphabet soup but this time it came with a side of what I call name drops. People networked. I understand this can be a good thing, but this was a more political and biased world. My father would have called it a case of “who you know, not what you know.”

Part of my job was to monitor grants. In one area I monitored the director was quick to point out that he was good friends with the head of my agency. He also said if I did a “good job” it might mean I could go upward. If not, well

On more than one occasion I was asked, by the agencies I monitored as well as my own agency’s supervisors, why “I found things.”

On another occasion I drove my supervisor and the department head around the area in which I was then working. I was astounded to hear their conversation. It was one big name dropping session, full of vicious gossip and pettiness.

I would have deferred retirement if I thought I could make a difference and if I had not felt the system was so morally bankrupt.

Perhaps members of the public might be more comfortable participating in their government and the agencies whose meetings are open to them if they were not served alphabet soup with a side of name drops.

Diane R. Chodan is a staff writer for the OBSERVER who retired after 30 years of government service.