||Guy K. Zimmerman
Assistant Inspector General for Audit
Office of the Inspector General
||Maureen A. Baginski
Executive Assistant Director, Intelligence
||Audit Report -The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Foreign Language Translation Program
The purpose of this memorandum is to respond to the Office of the Inspector General's (OIG) Report: The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Foreign Language Translation Program Follow-up Audit Report.
We are gratified by the OIG's finding that "the FBI has taken important steps to address the OIG's recommendations and has made progress in improving the operations of the Foreign Language Program" (p. ii). We also appreciate the positive comments about improvements to our program, to include the finding that "none of the counterterrorism audio backlog as of March 2005 was in the highest level priority cases" (p. v). As we believe the OIG report makes clear, we have made steady progress in implementing the OIG's recommendations. We welcome constructive feedback that can lead to improvements in our ability to serve the nation.
We offer the following comments on the report:
Backlog and Prioritization
We are pleased that the report places our backlog in the context of both increased workload and priorities. As the report notes, the increase in the counterterrorism FISA backlog from 4,086 hours as of April 2004 to 8,354 hours as of March 2005 represents 1.5 percent of all counterterrorism audio collected. The counterterrorism workload for FY 2003-2004 increased by 52 percent.
The sheer volume of information collected requires that we manage language processing to ensure our highest national security priorities are met. That is why a five-tier prioritization system was created by a panel of representatives from the then-Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Department of Justice's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) for managing our collection and processing of foreign language FISA material. This system ensures that we manage our workload and the enormous volume of material collected against nationally determined priorities. The FBI's internal five-tier priority processing system is directly aligned with that national process.
We are pleased that the OIG notes that: "none of the counterterrorism audio backlog as of March 2005 was in the highest level priority cases" (p. v). We would add that all counterterrorism backlog identified in the monthly surveys is analyzed to determine (1) whether the backlog is an issue of concern (or is empty microphones and white noise), or (2) whether the backlog is due to a lack of linguist resources (as in rare languages). This process has allowed us to determine that 52.8 percent of the 8,354 hours of counterterrorism backlog is likely white noise.
We are concerned with the treatment of unreviewed high priority material within 24 hours. Specifically, the OIG mentioned that the random sampling in April showed that for two "high priority" cases, sample sessions on April 5, 6 and 9 were not reviewed within 24 hours. We believe it is important to note for the record that the material in both cases was fully reviewed with an average turnaround time of 30.53 hours and 37.33 hours, respectively.
We appreciate the OIG's acknowledgment of the importance of maintaining a cadre of linguists with "high standards of language proficiency and cultural knowledge" (p. 3). We are not alone in facing a difficult challenge in this area, given that:
- The number of students graduating college with a bachelor's degree in a foreign language discipline has declined over the last 30 years.1
- In 1971, U.S. institutions of higher learning conferred 21,109 bachelor's degrees in foreign language disciplines. By 2001, the number had fallen to 15,318 — a decrease of 25 percent — and most degrees conferred were in Romance languages.2
We are concerned that the report fails to distinguish between FBI staffing needs and hiring goals. By "staffing needs," we mean needs that are based on workload volumes and reflect the number and type of linguists required to meet that workload. By "hiring goals," we mean goals that are set only after the funding for personnel is established. The report, under the phrase "hiring goals," includes data which actually reflects "staffing needs," as defined above. It compares our hiring performance against our stated staffing needs, without accounting for the limitations imposed by our funding. We cannot hire more than our funding allows.
We are committed to providing quality translation, interpretation, and language analysis services, both within the FBI and to the Intelligence Community. We appreciate the OIG's acknowledgment of our significant progress in improving our Foreign Translation Program, and we recognize that we must continue to grow, evolve, and improve in order to meet our nation's security needs. We will continue the programs and procedures we implemented in response to the OIG's June 2004 recommendations, and we will continue to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our Foreign Language Program.