Federal Bureau of Investigation's Foreign Language Translation Program Follow-Up

Audit Report 05-33
July 2005
Office of the Inspector General

Hiring Linguists

Goals and Target Staffing Levels28

Our July 2004 audit report found that while the FBI substantially increased its language translation capabilities, it did not meet its linguist hiring goals for all languages for which goals were set for FY 2002 or FY 2003.

In our follow-up work, we analyzed hiring data for FY 2004 and FY 2005. We found that the FBI met 62 percent of its hiring goals for FY 2004, and, as of March 30, 2005, had met 56 percent of its hiring goals in FY 2005.29 Table 6 shows the FBI’s overall progress in meeting its hiring goals.


Fiscal Year On Board
at Beginning
of FY
Net Increase
in Linguists
(through 3/30/2005)
1,220 264 147 (117) 70
2004 659 332 205 (127) 117
2003 586 263 164 (99) 98
2002 351 297-352 254 (43) 191
Source: FBI Language Services Section. Hiring goals for 2005 are for the calendar year.

For FY 2004, the FBI met its hiring goals in 11 of the 26 languages for which goals were established: 6 of the 13 languages designated “highest priority,” 2 of the 9 languages designated “priority,” and 3 of the 4 languages designated “important.”31 The FBI hired 205 language analysts and contract linguists in FY 2004, resulting in a net increase of 117 linguists.

As of March 30, 2005, the FBI had met hiring goals in 14 of 43 languages for which goals were established: 3 of the 14 languages designated “higher density,” and 11 of the 29 languages designated “lower density.”32

We also noted in our July 2004 audit report that the FBI did not account for attrition when determining its hiring goals. Therefore, its goals were based on hiring a specific number of linguists for each language, rather than hiring to a desired personnel ceiling level for each language. We also noted that hiring goals did not account for contract linguists who worked less than a full week. We recommended that the FBI ensure that hiring goals for linguists, including attrition, are based on staffing levels to be achieved.

In response to this recommendation, the FBI now sets specific target staffing levels for linguists.33 As of March 30, 2005, target staffing levels have been achieved in 23 of 52 languages for which target levels were established: 4 of the 14 languages designated “higher density,” and 19 of 38 languages designated “lower density.” The FBI has hired 147 language analysts and contract linguists thus far in FY 2005, resulting in a net increase of 70 linguists.

As reported in our July 2004 audit report, the number of full time FBI linguists and contract linguists increased from 883 in FY 2001 to 1,214 as of April 2004. Since then, the number of FBI and contract linguists has increased by 124 to 1,338 as of March 30, 2005.34

Table 7: ON-BOARD FBI AND CONTRACT LINGUISTS - Number of FBI Linguists/Number of Contract Linguists/Total. FY 2001 (as of 9/11/01): 391/492/883; FY 2002: 404/657/1061; FY 2003: 416/779/1195; FY 2004: 406/860/1266; FY 2005 (as of 3/30/05): 407/931/1338.
Source: FBI Language Services Section

Ongoing Hiring Challenges

As we described in our July 2004 audit report, in October 2000 the LSS assumed responsibility for centrally managing the recruitment and applicant processing of FBI linguist applicants. According to LSS management, following this centralization the number of linguists approved by the FBI increased from less than 80 per year to an average of more than 200 per year.

The LSS official responsible for hiring told us that, prior to FY 2002, the average time to complete the contract linguist hiring process was approximately two years. We noted in our July 2004 audit report that the average time had been reduced to approximately 13 months for contract linguists hired between October 1, 2003, and March 9, 2004.

The FBI provided similar data for the period from October 1, 2004, through March 29, 2005. The average time to hire a contract linguist has increased from 13 months to 14 months, according to the FBI’s methodology.35 According to our review, however, it took the FBI 16 months on average to hire a contract linguist. We accounted for the total time it takes the FBI to process an application, while the FBI’s figure only counted the amount of time necessary to complete the four major parts of the process.36

According to a business process engineering firm hired by the FBI to study the linguist hiring process, over 70 percent of the processing time is spent waiting in queue (that is, work is not being performed on the applications because of personnel, space, technology, or facilities bottlenecks). Data provided by the FBI shows that, on average, the greatest amounts of time in the hiring process are spent on language proficiency testing and the security clearance adjudication process.37

However, the LSS also provided data showing that at times of great need for a particular language the hiring cycle time had been reduced to an average of 31 days. LSS management told us that this was accomplished without compromising the background security process or language proficiency testing process. The Section Chief of the LSS told us the FBI was able to accomplish this by stopping everything and focusing on these applicants. The applicants were flown in to take the language proficiency tests, and the Security Division and applicable field offices were given stringent deadlines. The Section Chief noted, however, that this level of operations could not normally be sustained.

The Section Chief also provided information to us on May 25, 2005, detailing the Foreign Language Program’s proposed FY 2005 Language Analyst Hiring Initiative. The information provided listed FY 2005 hiring objectives for the language analyst position and also proposes an accelerated hiring process. According to the information provided, the FBI expects that adoption of the proposal would reduce the average language analyst applicant processing cycle time from an average of 134 days to less than 60 days.

Our follow-up review also found that the FBI continues to process a significant number of applications for each linguist hired, although the ratio has decreased. In FY 2002, for example, the FBI processed an average of 14 applicants for each linguist hired and 13 applicants for each linguist hired in FYs 2003 and 2004. As of March 30, 2005, the ratio for the fiscal year had been reduced to nine applicants for each linguist hired. However, we were cautioned by the LSS official responsible for hiring contract linguists that the ratio for FY 2005 is low because of staffing shortages in the Contract Linguist Unit, which prevents it from screening and processing as many applications as it was able to previously. The official told us that all applicants are still fully vetted. The official said that if the Contract Linguist Unit staff was at full capacity, the ratio would likely be similar to FY 2004.


Process Stage

End of FY

FY 2005 YTD
(As of
Applications Screened 15,730 7,272 10,027 6,618 4,131
Applicants Selected for Processing 28 4,333 2,615 2,930 1,224
Failed Proficiency Testing 25 1,496 510 1,299 612
Failed Polygraph Examination 35 238 62 98 47
Discontinued for Suitability Issues 13 142 32 23 9
Denied Access by Security Division 0 26 32 21 5
Hired 0 319 203 226 141
Ratio –
Applicants Selected for Processing: Hires
N/A 14:1 13:1 13:1 9:1
Source: FBI Language Services Section

Business Process Engineering Firm Study

In September 2004, the FBI hired a business process engineering firm to examine its linguist-hiring process. Representatives of the firm told the OIG that the recommendations they expect to make to the FBI in their final report will include using a web-based applicant communication/management tool; using third-party test centers for unclassified tasks to eliminate field office bottlenecks; increasing speaking proficiency testing efficiencies, such as increasing tester resources and implementing a digital teleconferencing and recording system; and reducing manual procedures in the hiring process.

According to the Acting Unit Chief of the Contract Linguist Unit, the FBI has already taken steps to implement some of these proposals, and the FBI has asked the firm to study additional processes.


  1. 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.

  2. The FBI switched to a calendar year basis in setting its 2005 and 2006 hiring goals and target staffing levels. In order to maintain consistency with information reported in our July 2004 report, our analysis is by fiscal year, using the calendar year goals.

  3. Reported statistics are for the languages for which the Language Services Section established hiring goals. Classified Appendix 6 contains information on hiring of linguists in specific languages.

  4. “Highest Priority,” “Priority,” and “Important” were designations assigned by the Language Services Section to indicate the relative priority of the FY 2004 hiring goals for each language.

  5. “Higher density” languages are those in which there is either a high demand for translation services, a high supply of available linguists, or both. “Lower density” languages are those in which there is either a low demand for translation services, a low supply of available linguists, or both. The FBI further designates priorities — high, medium, and low — within each group.

  6. The FBI’s target staffing levels were set by calendar year for 2005. In order to maintain consistency with other information presented in this report, our analysis is by fiscal year, using the calendar year goals.

  7. According to the FBI, contract linguists assigned counterterrorism and counterintelligence material work an average of 29.5 hours per week.

  8. This average time does not include applicants who did not have to complete all parts of the process, whose initial polygraph results were inconclusive and required additional investigation, or who were unavailable for an extended period of time during the hiring process.

  9. The four major parts of the hiring process are proficiency testing, polygraph, background investigation, and Security Division security clearance.

  10. The business process engineering firm’s study did not include the security clearance adjudication process.

  11. The statistics in each column are not exclusive to the timeframe indicated, since some actions may have been in process prior to that timeframe.

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