Bilingual? The Feds Want YOU

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Photo: degreedirectory.org

Many federal agencies are lacking workers with foreign-language skills, and those workers with linguistic talents are suddenly finding themselves in demand, Government Executive reports.

Director of the Government Accountability Office’s homeland security and justice division David Maurer told a Senate subcommittee in July the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department are all behind the curve when it comes to having workers with language skills.

Susan R. Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, told GovExec staffing gaps and the need to have people “out in the field,” often led to the practice of hiring first, with the thought that language skills could be acquired later. But that “rarely works,” she added.

DHS, DoD and the State Department are all offering internships and language training to lessen the language gap. And increasingly, departments are looking for more qualified candidates for job openings. Often, proficiency in another language earns a job seeker extra points.

Maurer said agencies often underestimate their need to have workers with language skills, and there is frequently a lack of clear guidelines for establishing language requirements.

One possible fix is a bill Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) introduced in 2009 that would create a White House council on national language requirements to foster collaboration between departments, GovExec reports.

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