The Senate Homeland Security Committee this week will examine two developments, one scandalous, the other a long-term problem.
On Monday afternoon, the panel’s subcommittee on government management and the federal workforce will hear testimony on what it calls “A National Crisis: The Federal Government’s Foreign Language Capabilities.”
On Wednesday, the full panel will look at the recent Secret Service scandal that resulted in the firing of nine employees for their involvement with prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia, and disciplinary action against three others.
The Secret Service hearing is the first time Director Mark Sullivan has been scheduled to speak publicly about the situation, which is one of the more embarrassing in the agency’s recent history.
The agents were in Colombia ahead of a trip by President Obama and were returned to the United States before he arrived.
The agency said the president’s security was not compromised, but the agency’s reputation certainly was. That’s reflected in the title of the hearing: “Secret Service on the Line: Restoring Trust and Confidence.”
Charles K. Edwards, the acting inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, will testify about his investigation of the incident.
Committee Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) said on MSNBC: “We want to get a review of his investigation of what happened in Colombia, which I believe so far has been thorough and fair. Secondly, we`re looking to see whether there was a pattern of misconduct before the Colombian scandal that should have sent a warning message to the agency to take action to prevent what happened in Colombia. And third, we want to know what they`re going to do from here on in.”
The federal workforce subcommittee hearing will focus on a problem that is more endemic and ongoing.
The government has had a deficit in foreign-language skills for years. In 2002, the General Accounting Office (now called the Government Accountability Office) said “the U.S. Army, the Department of State, the Foreign Commercial Service and the FBI have reported varied types and degrees of foreign language shortages.”
At the hearing, the State Department plans to tell senators that progress is being made, while significant shortages remain. Of nearly 4,000 language-designated positions, State says it has filled almost three-quarters this year, compared with less than two-thirds in 2009.
In a statement prepared for the hearing, Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the subcommittee, said the FBI, the CIA, the departments of state, homeland security and defense “continue to experience shortages of people skilled in hard-to-learn languages due to a limited pool of Americans to recruit from. Because of these shortages, agencies are forced to fill language-designated positions with employees that do not have those skills. Agencies then have to spend extra time and funds training employees in these languages.”