Clinton orders improved access for non-English speakers

Federal agencies must ensure that the programs they run are accessible to people who are not proficient in English, President Clinton said in an executive order issued Friday.

The order refers to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin. Under the order, each agency must prepare a plan to improve access to its programs for those who aren't fluent in English. The plans are due to the Department of Justice within four months.

A 1974 Supreme Court case involving Chinese students who received a public education solely in English-even though they did not speak English-set the standard for ensuring that language barriers did not exclude individuals from participating in federally assisted programs. The Court reasoned in Lau v. Nicholas (414 U.S. 563) that since the Chinese students received fewer benefits from the educational system than the English-speaking students, the school had violated Title VI.

In 1994, Attorney General Janet Reno issued a memo to agency heads advising them to make sure all individuals, regardless of national origin, are able to equally enjoy the benefits of federally financed programs.

The group protected by the order includes those born in other countries, some children of immigrants born in other countries, and those born in the United States with limited English proficiency (LEP). While agencies may already be in compliance with the order, Clinton asked all agency heads to reexamine their existing guidance to ensure they're doing everything they can for LEP individuals.

Agencies must take into account various factors in devising their programs including, the number or proportion of LEP individuals in a program, how often LEP individuals use the program, the importance of the service provided by the program-for example, federally assisted schools and hospitals provide for more basic needs than a federally assisted zoo or theater-and the type of resources available to federally assisted recipients.

Each agency is responsible for determining whether written or oral translations are more beneficial and cost-effective, depending on the situation.

Agencies should refer to the LEP Guidance for program compliance standards.

Following review and approval by the Justice Department, each agency will publish its guidance document in the Federal Register for public comment.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.