Federal Documents in Languages Other Than English Published and Distributed in Calendar Years 1995-1997

GGD-98-99R: Published: Jun 5, 1998. Publicly Released: Jun 5, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO updated its September 1995 correspondence identifying the number of federal government documents (excluding documents of the Departments of Defense and State) that were published in languages other than English, focusing on: (1) the number of non-English-language documents published during the 3-year period from January 1, 1995, through December 31, 1997, and determining how many of these published documents were distributed; (2) which languages federal agencies published these documents in; and (3) two examples of agencies' written policies and procedures for determining when to publish agency documents in a language other than English.

GAO noted that: (1) for the years 1995 through 1997, GAO identified a total of 200 non-English-language documents from the Government Printing Office (GPO) and the National Technical Information Service's (NTIS) databases; (2) this is less than one-half of 1 percent of the approximately 69,000 federal agency documents that were published during this period and listed in these databases; (3) two of the three agencies that published the most non-English-language documents during this 3-year period were the Social Security Administration (SSA), which published 49 non-English-language documents, and the Department of Education, which published 17; (4) some of the SSA documents offered explanations of the supplemental security income program and disability insurance; (5) Education documents addressed topics such as reading improvement, student financial assistance, and child development; (6) data GPO and NTIS officials provided on the number of copies of these 200 documents distributed showed that about 11 million copies of these non-English-language documents were distributed during the years 1995 through 1997; (7) this is less than one-half of 1 percent of the approximately 2.9 billion copies of documents printed and distributed by GPO alone during the 3-year period; (8) SSA's non-English-language documents were the most widely distributed; (9) of the 11 million non-English-language documents that GPO distributed during this 3-year period, 6.6 million, or 60 percent, were SSA documents; (10) by far, the most prevalent language used was Spanish, with 143 of the 200 documents GAO identified being published in Spanish; (11) 36 of the non-English-language documents were published in multiple languages, and most of these included Spanish as 1 of the languages; (12) other than Spanish, no other language was used in more than five of the documents; (13) both of the agencies contacted had written policies about publishing documents in a language other than English; (14) SSA's policy established five factors for determining when to produce written communications in a language other than English, including the number of non-English-speaking customers and the cost-effectiveness of issuing the communication; and (15) senior officers at Education have the authority to determine which of their offices' publications will be issued in a foreign language.

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