Foreign Languages:

Workforce Planning Could Help Address Staffing and Proficiency Shortfalls

GAO-02-514T: Published: Mar 12, 2002. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 2002.

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Susan S. Westin
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Federal agencies' foreign language needs have increased during the past decade because of increasing globalization and the changing security environment. At the same time, agencies have seen significant reductions-in-force and no-growth or limited-growth environments during the last decade. As a result, some agencies now confront an aging core of language-capable staff while recruiting and retaining qualified new staff in an increasingly competitive job market. The four agencies GAO reviewed reported shortages of translators and interpreters and other staff, such as diplomats and intelligence specialists, with foreign language skills. These shortfalls varied depending on the agency, job position, language, and skill level. The agencies reported using a range of strategies to address their staffing shortfalls, such as providing employees with language training and pay incentives, recruiting employees with foreign language skills, hiring contractors, or taking advantage of information technology. One of the four agencies has adopted a strategic approach to its workforce planning efforts. In contrast, the other three agencies have yet to pursue overall strategic planning in this area.

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