A unique and annoying phenomenon of the United States Congress is to produce bills with embarrassingly contrived and contorted names that form catchy acronyms. For example, this century the following bills have been proposed or passed by Congress:

  • Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2001

  • Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act of 2015

  • Trade Review Accountability Needs Sunlight and Preview of Any Regulations and Exact Negotiated Components (TRANSPAREN-C) Resolution

  • Strengthening Homeland Security, Intelligence, and Essential Law Enforcement Departments (SHIELD) Act of 2015

  • Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-Related Fatalities Everywhere Act (ROADS SAFE) of 2015

  • Cutting Rampant Access to Crack Kits (CRACK) Act of 2022

  • Patient Health and Real Medication Access Cost Savings (PHARMACY) Act of 2009

  • The Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act of 2023

Some of them don’t even work as acronyms! PHARMACY is actually PHARMACS? SHIELD is actually SHSIELED?

The United States Capitol

It’s a phenomenon that’s unique to the US Congress; most state legislatures in the US number their bills, with the numbers resetting each session, and other legislatures just give their bills normal, boring names – like the UK with its Equality Act 2010, its Trade Descriptions Act 1968, or its Theft Act 1978.

There have been various campaigns to try to stop this behaviour, including one memorable April Fool’s Day stunt by California Representative Mike Honda, who announced that he was going to introduce the Accountability and Congressional Responsibility on Naming Your Motions (ACRONYM) Act in order to ban them. If only he had. As Matt Ford writes:

“Bill titles… are a useful benchmark for how much Congress has declined over the past 30 years from a serious legislative body that could pass serious legislation to a performative arena for partisan feuds. With the real legislative process largely centralized in leadership offices, most rank-and-file lawmakers know that their proposals stand little chance of becoming law and that they might as well make a spectacle of them. As long as that’s true, acronym bills will continue to bedevil us.”