Closing the Language Gap: Part II

Senate Hearings on “Closing the Language Gap: Improving the Federal Government’s Language Capabilities” were held last week. The first panel consisted of witnesses from GAO, DOD, and Homeland Security. The testimonies indicated that the Department of Defense with its “Language Roadmap” has made considerable strides in beginning to address their language needs. On the other hand, Homeland Security (DHS) has not even begun to scratch the surface in addressing their language needs and is, in fact, cutting language training. GAO’s witness responded to a question about their examination of DOD, DHS and the State Department’s efforts to acquire language skills by suggesting that agencies need to address their core mission needs by asking what do they need; what do they have; and how can they fill the gaps? He concluded that coordination within some agencies and across all agencies is relatively weak.

The second panel was optimistic that the country does have the capability to address the nation’s language needs. Dr. David Chu noted that DoD is a good model which experienced success because: 1) top leadership was committed to languages; 2) there was a willingness to address new ideas and new programs; and 3) there was a notion that languages were important at both senior and field levels. Dr. Richard Brecht described a possible crisis scenario and detailed the necessary leadership, coordination, and resources necessary to address national language needs in a crisis. Finally, Dr. Dan Davidson provided data and information demonstrating that there are programs in place that are creating the language skills the government needs and that new programs that are highly effective can be developed.

In response to a question to all three panelists as to what the federal government should be doing to address national language needs the responses were quite similar: increased funding for language education; improved national coordination; identify and increase support for programs that are working; and use the federal government’s “bully pulpit” to encourage increased language study.

Compliments of JNCL-NCLIS