FOREIGN LANGUAGES: Human Capital Approach Needed to Correct Staffing and Proficiency Shortfalls
GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE WASHINGTON DC
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Although more than 70 federal agencies have foreign language needs, some of the largest programs are concentrated in the Army, the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Office of Personnel and Management records indicate that the government employs just under a thousand translators and interpreters in the job series reserved for this group. The government also employs tens of thousands of individuals who use foreign language skills in positions such as cryptologic linguists, human intelligence collectors,4 FBI special agents and legal attaches, State Department Foreign Service officers, and Department of Commerce Foreign Commercial Service officers. For the four agencies we reviewed, a total of nearly twenty thousand staff are employed in positions that require some foreign language proficiency. Federal agencies use the foreign language proficiency scale established by the federal Interagency Language Roundtable to rank an individuals language skills. The scale has six levels from 0 to 5--with being the most proficiento assess an individuals ability to speak, read, listen, and write in another language. Proficiency requirements vary by agency and position but tend to congregate at the second and third levels of the scale. Table 1 shows the language skill requirements for each proficiency level.