Lawmakers unveil bills to improve language proficiency

Legislation introduced Wednesday highlights the need for more multilingual workers across the federal government to translate counterterrorism intelligence.

"It is troubling that five and a half years after September 11, the federal government still lacks a coordinated strategy and leadership to increase the number of Americans who are proficient in foreign languages," said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on the federal workforce and sponsor of the Senate measure (S. 451).

Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., introduced a companion to the National Foreign Language Coordination Act in the House (H.R. 747).

The 2000 Census found that only 9.3 percent of Americans speak both their native language and another language fluently, compared with 56 percent of people in the European Union.

Additionally, the Iraq Study Group reported last month that of the 1,000 American embassy workers employed in Baghdad, only 33 speak Arabic. Of the 33, only six are fluent. The study group recommended that the State and Defense secretaries, the Director of National Intelligence and U.S. officers and personnel about to be assigned to Iraq give language proficiency and cultural training the "highest possible priority."

The bills from Akaka and Baird would prompt the federal government to collaborate with educators, state and local governments, foreign language associations and the private sector to increase the number of Americans who speak and understand foreign languages.

The bill also would establish a National Foreign Language Coordination Council within the Executive Office of the President to develop and oversee the implementation of a comprehensive American foreign language strategy.

In addition, the measure aims to integrate language training into career fields in the government and private sector and increase the number of language-proficient professionals.

Akaka's subcommittee held a hearing last week on the federal government's language strategy.

Dr. Diane Birckbichler, director of the Foreign Language Center and chair of the departments of French and Italian at Ohio State University, testified that "if there is a national language strategy, it isn't very well known." Birckbichler further recommended that the government establish a national language policy to create a language-ready workforce for the future.

"Just as I have advocated the need for deputy secretaries for management at the departments of Defense and Homeland Security to direct and sustain management leadership, I envision a national language director to be responsible for maintaining and leading a cooperative effort to strengthen our foreign language capabilities," Akaka said in a statement.

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.