Executive Order 13166 (August 11, 2000) directs each federal agency to improve access to federal programs and services for persons with limited English proficiency (LEP). Using guidance issued by DOJ, agencies are generally required to develop recipient guidance and/or an LEP plan outlining steps for ensuring that LEP persons can access federal services and programs. As requested, GAO (1) determined which agencies have completed their recipient guidance and LEP plan, (2) assessed the extent to which the selected agencies have implemented the Executive Order consistent with DOJ's guidance, and (3) examined DOJ's and the three selected agencies' efforts to enhance collaboration. GAO analyzed the Executive Order and agencies' recipient guidance and plans posted on LEP.gov; selected the IRS, FEMA, and SBA for this review because of the amount and significance of their interaction with LEP persons; and reviewed documentation of agencies' collaborative efforts to provide access to federal services.
As of February 2010, 22 agencies have completed their recipient guidance. Additionally, DOJ has reported receiving LEP plans from 58 federal agencies. However, the total number of agencies required to complete recipient guidance and an LEP plan cannot be determined because the Executive Order makes agencies responsible for determining the need for guidance and a plan based on their interaction with LEP persons and does not require agencies to report on the results of their determination. Consequently, some agencies may determine that drafting a recipient guidance or an LEP plan is not necessary. Further, although the Executive Order requires agencies to make recipient guidance public, the same requirement does not exist for plans. DOJ's guidance contains four elements for improving access to federal programs and services by LEP persons. IRS has fully addressed each of these elements, while FEMA and SBA have made less progress, as shown in the table below. IRS has centralized its language access services within one office, overseen by an agencywide executive council. Additionally, IRS regularly identifies the LEP populations it serves, administers a variety of targeted language access services, and monitors these services for potential improvements. FEMA has demonstrated agency commitment, identified LEP populations, and delivered services during disasters, but it lacks a structured approach to monitor these services. While SBA is continuing to draft its LEP plan, the agency does not conduct a needs assessment, and provides limited monitoring of services to LEP populations. Among the three agencies GAO reviewed, FEMA collaborates with SBA and IRS to provide LEP persons a centralized location for receiving assistance during a declared disaster. Additionally, these agencies (along with 21 other federal agencies), participate in an Interagency Working Group on LEP issues. GAO identified a potential shared services approach agencies could use for translation and interpretive services.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Justice||1. To help ensure access to federal programs and services for LEP populations, as well as to promote greater transparency for LEP stakeholders, the Attorney General should direct the appropriate DOJ officials to issue a letter to the heads of all federal agencies reminding them of their obligations under the Executive Order. Specifically, the letter's content should encourage federal agencies to (1) complete and submit their LEP plans and recipient guidance to DOJ for review and approval, and (2) make their completed LEP plans available to the public.|
|Department of Justice||2. To promote more efficient improvements to LEP persons' access across the government, the Attorney General should direct the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights to work with members of the Federal Interagency Working Group on LEP to explore possible sharing of resources and foreign language capabilities. For example, members of the working group may consider leveraging their shared resources to produce routine and frequently used documents needing to be translated in less common foreign languages.|
|Internal Revenue Service||3. To improve service to LEP populations, the National Taxpayer Advocate should determine whether any potential service improvements could be derived from requiring Low Income Tax Clinics to collect more detailed data on LEP populations they serve.|
|Department of Homeland Security||4. To comply with the Executive Order and provide recipient guidance for DHS's components such as FEMA to follow when assessing the need to provide language access services for their programs, services, and activities, the Secretary of Homeland Security should finalize and issue the department's LEP plan and recipient guidance.|
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||5. To provide more meaningful access for LEP communities, the Administrator of FEMA should develop criteria for determining vital documents needed for translation, and make available general disaster information in the regularly encountered languages.|
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||6. To provide more meaningful access for LEP communities, the Administrator of FEMA should develop mechanisms to monitor and evaluate services provided to LEP persons.|
|Small Business Administration||7. To provide more meaningful access to LEP populations, the Administrator of SBA should finalize and issue its LEP plan and recipient guidance.|
|Small Business Administration||8. To provide more meaningful access to LEP populations, the Administrator of SBA should complete a comprehensive national needs assessment which should include data from its existing funding recipients on the number of LEP persons served and how they are served.|
|Department of Justice||9. In cases when an agency has determined that it is not required to draft recipient guidance or an LEP plan, the Assistant Attorney General should request agencies to report the results of this determination to DOJ.|