Translation backlog still haunts FBA, CIA

A new report by the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Justice reveals that translation issues still trouble the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).  While the FBI has translated and reviewed 100% of the written texts it has collected, there are huge backlogs in terms of translation of electronic and audio files:  31%  of the electronic files  (over 14.2 million files) and 25% of the the audio files (1.2 million hours) remain untranslated. Despite this situation, the number of linguists who do the translations has actually dropped 3% since 2005. Further, government security clearances now take over 14 months, and 70% of the new linguists do not attend required training in the first year.

In an article posted by the the Global Watchtower of the  Commonsense Advisory, the author Donald De Palma quotes the I.G. report as saying, “Failing to hire an adequate number of linguists in a timely manner adversely affects the FBI’s ability to manage the growing translation workload and reduce the current backlog of unreviewed material.”

In the same article, the Commonwealth Advisory also reports that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is having its own problems.  In May it announced its plans to improve its ability to translate, review, and act on non-English information. Presently only 13% of current CIA employees are fluent in a second language.

This is an area where clearly U.S. universities could be of help.  While we offer Arabic-English translation in our MA in Translation Studies Program at UMass , we currently only have one Arabic speaker in the program.  In the past, we have had several students from Iraq, and one of our graduates currently teaches Iraqi dialects at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. We could handle more students, if there were more undergraduates coming out with the language pairs needed by our government, or if their were more funding for international students in our graduate programs.

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