WASHINGTON â€” A senior U.S. defense official suggested before Congress Monday that a lack of foreign language capabilities in the federal government could potentially pose a national security risk.
â€œLet me begin by stating that Defense Secretary [Leon E.] Panetta has long believed that having a strong language ability is critical to national security,â€ Laura Junor, deputy assistant secretary of defense for readiness, said in testimony before a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee â€œWeâ€™re committed to fielding the most capable force that we can deploy.â€
Junor said mission success is directly connected to the ability to communicate effectively with local populations and international partners.Â â€œOur current challenge lies in filling language-required positions with personnel that possess the requisite language skills,â€ she said. â€œWeâ€™ve been reducing this deficiency, but we need help. We need our nationâ€™s schools to develop students with these skills from which we can recruit to meet our needs.
â€œStudies show that exposure to foreign language and early language learning greatly facilitates language acquisition,â€ Junor said. â€œTherefore, bringing in individuals with foreign language skills makes it easier to train people to higher levels of proficiency. We are working to overcome these challenges through collaborative, interagency strategies to achieve our vision for language, regional and cultural capabilities,â€ she added.
These strategies, Junor said, address the importance of identifying language needs, acquiring and sustaining language skills, enhancing language careers, building partners and increasing surge capacity.Â â€œThe department is improving the identification of its language needs through standardized, capabilities-based processes,â€ she said. â€œThese processes enable the combatant commanders to articulate their language needs and provide them to the military services who supply the staff to meet those needs.â€
DoD is also actively engaged with other federal agencies such as the National Security Education Board and the Defense Language Steering Committee, Junor said. â€œBy experience, weâ€™ve learned the importance of building a surge capacity to yield language expertise quickly and at a reasonable cost,â€ Junor said. â€œThe departmentâ€™s National Language Service Corps provides a pool of qualified volunteers with high levels of proficiency, in both English and foreign languages who can serve, and then be activated, as temporary government employees when needed.â€