Defense language training program needs improvement, GAO says

The Army and the Marine Corps must better document the results of their language and culture training programs to make them more effective, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

While the Defense Department has stressed within its own documents, such as the Quadrennial Defense Review and the Army and Marine Corps Operating Concepts, that language and culture skills are necessities, GAO found the two services lacked the documentation for improvement.

"By not capturing information within service-level training and personnel systems on the training that general purpose forces have completed and the language proficiency gained from training, the Army and Marine Corps do not have the information they need to effectively leverage the language and culture knowledge and skills of these forces when making individual assignments and assessing future operational needs," the report said.

GAO said Defense should determine which soldiers and marines with language skills require follow-up training, establish how much more training is required and ensure such training is offered. The Digital Training Management System should have defined, uniform data fields for training tasks, and should be updated for all soldiers who have already completed training.

Defense also should specifically designate which training system the Marine Corps will use to document completion of language and culture training. In addition the Marines should undergo formal testing to ensure proficiency after language training.

In its response, the department agreed or partially agreed with all the recommendations.

"With an increasing number of general purpose forces attending predeployment language training at language training detachments, the department will examine ways to capitalize on the investments already made to ensure we build, enhance, and sustain a total force with a mix of language skills, regional expertise, and cultural capabilities to meet existing and emerging needs," said Laura Junor, deputy assistant secretary of Defense.

The department had several reservations about recommendations aimed specifically at the Marine Corps to measure proficiency. The program was not designed to produce measurable results, but rather provide the skills needed to accomplish the missions, Junor said; the Marine Corps already assesses the program through mission rehearsal exercises, she said.

GAO previously published two reports, in June 2009 and May 2011, recommending Defense create a strategic plan featuring goals and requirements for the department's language and training program. In December 2009, the Office of the Secretary of Defense directed the Army to use $160 million from its budget submissions from fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2015 to create language-training detachments at several military bases.

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