Federal Bureau of Investigation's Foreign Language Translation Program Follow-Up
Audit Report 05-33
Office of the Inspector General
The FBI’s response to the OIG’s audit report addresses two main issues: (1) Backlog and Prioritization, and (2) Hiring of Linguists. We briefly discuss each of these issues below.
Backlog and Prioritization
The FBI’s response states that it has analyzed the counterterrorism backlog in the monthly FISA surveys identified in our report to determine whether the backlog is of concern or is empty microphones or white noise or other audio that does not require translation. The FBI stated that “52.8 percent of the 8,354 hours of counterterrorism backlog is likely white noise.” Because the FBI did not provide this information to us previously, we are not able to audit or verify these numbers. However, even if accurate, this figure suggests that approximately half the counterterrorism backlog, or more than 3,900 hours of counterterrorism collections, consists of counterterrorism material that should be reviewed to determine the intelligence value of the information collected. In our judgment, even these numbers suggest that the FBI must continue its efforts to eliminate this backlog.
Hiring of Linguists
The FBI’s response suggested that the report fails to distinguish between the FBI’s hiring goals, which are based on the funding that is established for hiring linguists, and the FBI’s linguist staffing needs which the FBI determines without accounting for budget limitations.
In fact, the report treats the FBI’s staffing needs and hiring goals separately. The subheading under “Hiring Linguists” on page 20 of the report indicates that we are discussing “Goals and Target Staffing Levels.” The FBI’s success at meeting hiring goals is discussed on pages 20 and 21 of the report and its efforts at meeting target staffing levels is discussed on page 22.
In our July 2004 report, we noted our concern with the FBI’s methodology for setting hiring goals and specifically recommended that the FBI base its hiring goals on staffing levels to be achieved (including accounting for attrition and contract linguists who work less than a full week). In response, the FBI established both “hiring objectives” and “target on-board linguist levels” for calendar years (CY) 2005 and CY 2006, and we acknowledged the FBI’s establishment of target staffing levels on page 22 of the report.
We agree with the FBI’s comment that it cannot hire more linguists than funding allows. However, we also note that the FBI can re-program funds to meet critical contract linguist needs. Our report also presents information on page 14 showing that Foreign Language Program funding has increased significantly, from $21.5 million in FY 2001 to $36.2 million in FY 2005 and on page 15 showing that spending for Language Analyst salaries and benefits has increased from $30.7 million in FY 2001 to $34.8 million in FY 2005.
However, to further clarify in the report the difference between target staffing levels and hiring goals, we modified footnote 6 on page vi and added footnote 28 on page 20 of the report to read: “Target staffing levels refer to staffing needs that are based upon workload volumes and reflect the number and type of linguists required to meet that workload regardless of available funding. Hiring goals refer to goals that are set only after funding for personnel has been established.”