Foreign Languages:

Human Capital Approach Needed to Correct Staffing and Proficiency Shortfalls

GAO-02-375: Published: Jan 31, 2002. Publicly Released: Mar 5, 2002.

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The changing security environment and the increasing globalization of the U.S. economy have significantly increased the need for federal employees with foreign language skills. GAO reviewed in detail the operations of the following four agencies: the Army, the State Department, the Department of Commerce's Foreign Commercial Service (FCS), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). These four agencies reported shortages of translators and interpreters as well as diplomats and intelligence specialists with critical foreign language skills. Agency officials said that these shortfalls have harmed agency operations and hindered U.S. military, law enforcement, intelligence, counterterrorism, and diplomatic efforts. The four agencies use various workforce strategies to meet their foreign language needs, including staff development, such as language training and pay incentives; employee recruitment; contractors; or information technology, such as networked computers and databases. One of the four agencies is trying to resolve its foreign language shortages by focusing on human capital management and workforce planning, as suggested by GAO. The FBI has begun an action plan that links its foreign language program to the Bureau's strategic objectives and program goals. However, the Army, the State Department, and FCS's initiatives are not part of a coordinated plan of action with regard to foreign language recruitment, training, pay incentives, and workforce restructuring.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2002, we recommended (Foreign Languages: Human Capital Approach Needed to Correct Staffing and Proficiency Shortfalls, GAO-02-375, 01/31/02) that the Director General of the Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) adapt a strategic, results-oriented approach to human capital management and workforce planning. As of July 2006, the FCS has taken a number of actions to respond to our report recommendation, including completing a worldwide review of language designation positions overseas to more accurately identify existing proficiency shortfalls, instituting a pilot program to offer language training throughout the U.S. and not just Washington, establishing an award language incentive program, and developing a detailed corrective plan of action which has been closely monitored and aggressively implemented.

    Recommendation: To improve the overall management of foreign language resources and to better address current and projected shortages in foreign language skills, the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of State, and the Director General of the FCS should adopt a strategic, results-oriented approach to human capital management and workforce planning. This approach should include setting a strategic direction, assessing agency gaps in foreign language skills, developing a corrective plan of action, and monitoring the implementation and success of this action plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: International Trade Administration: Foreign Commercial Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO's report led the State Department to adopt a results-oriented approach to human capital management with regards to their needs for foreign language speakers. The State Department incorporated a measurable human capital goal in its 2004 performance plan by stipulating that the percentage of employees meeting the required skill level for Language Designated Positions (LDP) should meet or exceed the fiscal year 2002 fill rate of 88 percent in both fiscal years 2003 and 2004. The Department's Foreign Service Institute is also attempting to more accurately measure posts' language needs through improved surveys of language-training graduates and post leadership. Finally, management has assessed the need to raise LDP levels in some cases or add LDPs in others, and launched a series of initiatives to meet this increased demands. These initiatives include a Diplomatic Readiness Initiative which will allow for longer language training, enhanced recruitment efforts to attract more qualified language speakers, and a new language continuum plan to guide workforce planning decisions regarding language use and development to meet the need for more people with higher levels of competence in all languages, but especially those deemed critical to national security concerns.

    Recommendation: To improve the overall management of foreign language resources and to better address current and projected shortages in foreign language skills, the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of State, and the Director General of the FCS should adopt a strategic, results-oriented approach to human capital management and workforce planning. This approach should include setting a strategic direction, assessing agency gaps in foreign language skills, developing a corrective plan of action, and monitoring the implementation and success of this action plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our January 2002 report (Foreign Languages: Human Capital Approach Needed to Correct Staffing and Proficiency Shortfalls, (GAO-02-375) we recommended that the Secretary of the Army develop and adapt a strategic, results-oriented, human capital approach to manage the Department's foreign language requirements. In January 2005, the Department of Defense issued a detailed Defense Language Transformation Roadmap which fully addresses this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the overall management of foreign language resources and to better address current and projected shortages in foreign language skills, the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of State, and the Director General of the FCS should adopt a strategic, results-oriented approach to human capital management and workforce planning. This approach should include setting a strategic direction, assessing agency gaps in foreign language skills, developing a corrective plan of action, and monitoring the implementation and success of this action plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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