Interpretation, Perspective, Translation

The Civilian Language Reserve Corps, Part II

By Stafford Hemmer

In the May issue of Translorial, we learned of the history and mission of the Civilian Language Reserve Corp., the U.S. government’s 2004 initiative to widen the scope of qualified volunteer language professionals in the wake of the September 11th attacks. In this concluding segment, we hear from representatives of the program and the president of ATA about this unusual effort to invigorate American foreign language abilities.

On May 8, 2007, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) for the Department of Defense issued an official News Release: “DoD Announces Pilot Language Corps.” Initially proposed to Congress shortly after the devastation of September 11, 2001, the U.S. Department of Defense was one of several agencies working jointly to originate “a vital new approach to address the nation’s needs for professionals with language skills … an integral component of the Department of Defense’s language roadmap, and the President’s National Security Language Initiative.”

According to Gail McGinn, Deputy Undersecretary for Defense for Plans, “the department is confident that a successful Language Corps will not only address gaps in federal preparedness, but also serve to reinforce the importance of language skills in the American population and the U.S. education system.” Yet true to the Leviathan nature of the U.S. bureaucracy, organizing, funding, approving, revising, debating, and moving forward with the Corps has turned into a multi-year process. Even the name of the group—originally the “Civilian Linguists Reserve Corps”— has been changed several times and is now the “National Language Service Corps.,” according to Robert Slater, Director of the National Security Education Program.

Further, while the original charter stated that “the pilot Corps will include no fewer than 1,000 members drawn from all sectors of the U.S. population,” to date no volunteers have been recruited; enrollment is not likely to start until 2008.

According to DoD information, the newly christened NLSC, which “will be an entirely civilian organization managed by the DoD for the federal sector, composed of members who will voluntarily join and renew their membership,” begins with a pilot effort involving approximately 10 languages (see Part I). Although not able to indicate which languages have been identified for the pilot project, Mr. Slater confirmed that “the final list of languages is still in development, and will be announced in the fall.”

Organization and structure

The NLSC is basically divided into two groups of participants: the “national pool” and the “dedicated pool.” All volunteers will have their skills certified by the NLSC, and it is likely that renewal procedures will involve coursework or projects that hone or elevate current skill sets. But while the national pool of volunteers is intended for deployment in the event of “war, national emergency, or other national needs,” the dedicated pool will consist of a smaller number of participants, who will serve specific federal agencies on a contractual basis, and “agree to perform specific responsibilities and duties.”

According to Mr. Slater, “the major difference between the two pools is the nature of the contractual relationship involving the individual member. In the case of the national pool, members are not obligated to serve. They will be activated only depending upon their availability. In the case of dedicated members, they will actually enter into contractual relationships with specific federal agencies. They will be expected to be available up to the days specified in their contract.” Volunteers in both pools will be expected to travel, both within the U.S. and abroad.

When asked if volunteers in either pool will be involved in the interrogation of enemy combatants, or other individuals detained by what the U.S. government deems to be terrorist-related activities, Mr. Slater replied “we are not nearly at a point where this question can be answered.”

The ATA viewpoint

Back in July 2006, ATA President Marian Greenfield announced to the organization’s membership that the government would soon be enrolling volunteers in the CLRC. Since that message, Ms. Greenfield reports that “there was no measurable response from membership, other than members who were grateful to know about such translation/interpreting volunteer opportunities, particularly those that could potentially lead could lead to paying jobs.” Compensation for the “volunteer” work, in fact, is still intended under the NLSC. “Compensation plans are still under development, explained Mr. Slater. “The assumption at this point is that national pool members will be compensated only if they are activated. However, all members will derive other benefits from membership in the Corps.”

Ms. Greenfield remains optimistic about the prospects for the NLSC and interested linguists, although there is no official ATA position on the project. As Ms. Greenfield explains, “If the [NLSC] works as planned, it will be of tremendous value to those who need help during times of local and/or national emergencies. It has the potential to possibly create jobs for ATA members. And, once again, the important role that professional translators and interpreters play in bridging the languages, customs, and cultures of different communities will be highlighted.”