A National Security Crisis: Foreign Language Capabilities in the Federal Government
WASHINGTON, D.C., May, 21, 2012—Speaking at a May 21 Senate hearing entitled: “A National Security Crisis: Foreign Language Capabilities in the Federal Government,” IIE President Allan E. Goodman called for a greater commitment to foreign language instruction at U.S. colleges and universities, stating that a knowledge of foreign languages and cultures is essential to our national security and to preparing Americans to meet the demands of the global workforce.
The hearing was convened by the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, under the auspices of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the subcommittee, said national security agencies “continue to experience shortages of people skilled in hard-to-learn languages due to a limited pool of Americans to recruit from.”
Dr. Goodman was invited to testify based on IIE’s role in assisting the federal government in administering key academic exchange and public diplomacy initiatives as well as his participation on a Council on Foreign Relations Task Force, chaired by Joel Klein, former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, and Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State, which recently published a report entitled “US Education Reform and National Security.” IIE administers the David L. Boren scholarships and fellowships and The Language Flagship, on behalf of the National Security Education Program, and the Benjamin A. Gilman scholarships and the Fulbright Program on behalf of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Dr. Goodman endorsed the CFR Task Force’s call for a national security “readiness audit” to determine on a nation-wide basis how many students are mastering “important national security skills, such as learning foreign languages,” noting that such an audit would help us all to achieve the better coordination among federal, state, and local governments, the private sector, and academia in addressing the gaps about which this Subcommittee has been so persistently and correctly concerned. He reiterated the CFR report’s emphatic warning that “educational failure puts the United States’ future prosperity, global position and physical safety at risk,” and its conclusion that “the United States must produce enough citizens with critical skills to fill the ranks of the Foreign Service, the intelligence community, and the armed forces. For the United States to maintain its military and diplomatic leadership role, it needs highly qualified and capable men and women to conduct its foreign affairs.”
Speaking about what is being done to endorse the shortfall in foreign language speakers, Dr. Goodman described Boren, Gilman, and Fulbright programs as efficient and effective higher education initiatives that are strategically targeted to build these capacities. He said that the these programs are making a difference in terms of the number of young Americans who are getting the language training and area studies expertise needed for government service. However, he called on U.S. higher education to do more to require foreign language competence and better prepare the workforce.
“Learning and using another’s language teaches that we cannot solve world problems on our own no matter how many Chinese and Indians speak English,” Dr. Goodman concluded in his written testimony. “Languages convey more than facts; they enable people to reach conclusions in different ways and are the standard bearers of cultures from which we can also learn. It has never been more important for more Americans to know that, especially as they prepare for and enter careers of service to the nation and in departments and agencies that all aim at making the world we share a less dangerous place.”
Watch a video of the hearing and download speaker testimony from the hearing website
*Note that Dr. Goodman’s testimony begins at minute 97 in the video.
Press coverage of the hearing: