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Lawmakers Seek to Reverse Cuts to Foreign Language Training

Seaman Olivia Kleiger, from Hampton, Va., uses the new CL-150 self-paced foreign language training software at the Center for Information Dominance Corry Station. (U.S Navy photo by Gary Nichols/Released)
Seaman Olivia Kleiger, from Hampton, Va., uses the new CL-150 self-paced foreign language training software at the Center for Information Dominance Corry Station. (U.S Navy photo by Gary Nichols/Released)

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has sent a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter asking the U.S. military to restore millions in funding for foreign language training cut in the 2016 budget proposal.

The letter, signed by eight members of the House of Representatives, expresses concern that vital foreign language training could be lost at a time when Arabic, Farsi, Chinese and Russian linguists are increasingly in demand.

"We have concerns regarding potentially irreversible capability reductions at [the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center] in the interim and possibly higher out-year expenditures to reestablish any lost capability. We request that you provide us with information on DoD's plans to address these two particular concerns prior to your broader briefing to the committee," the letter states.

A budget decision made by Army programmers seeks to remove $31 million out of $261 million earmarked for the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, or DLIFLC, Congressional sources said.

At least $11 million of the planned reduction is slated for a foreign language specialty vendor known as SCOLA. The proposed cut would eliminate all of their DoD funding. SCOLA is a non-profit which has been involved in advanced language training for the last 20-years. Their training programs include foreign language TV programming in up to 120 languages and editable textual materials in languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Farsi, Hindi, Korean, Pashto, Russian, Spanish and Urdu.

"DoD personnel are required to interact, speak, and write in multiple dialects -- including increasingly-demanded dialects of Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Farsi, Korean, Pashto, Russian, Spanish and Urdu -- to properly execute their missions," the letter writes.

SCOLA is known for not only teaching the fundamentals of languages themselves but also ensuring that students learn inflection, slang and various cultural nuances woven into a language. Their training involves access to in-country videos and newspapers not available online and their staff includes a native speaker network in more than 130 countries.

SCOLA has personnel based in places such as South Korea and Iran, among other countries, Congressional officials said.

"Linguists at the Department of Defense and supporting agencies may be unable to perform their job functions properly if they are unable to access advanced language and cultural training modules," the letter states.

The letter also asks Carter to brief the House Armed Services Committee on the issue prior to Oct. 1, 2015.

Army officials have said their services' Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, has its own materials able to replace the foreign language training capabilities lost by the elimination of SCOLA funding, Congressional sources said.

Nonetheless, the lawmakers' effort, led by Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., cites concern that the cuts will impact special operations forces, intelligence community personnel as well as entities throughout the Defense Department.

"Based on discussions with staff and testimonials from the active and reserve components, the intelligence community and special operations officials, we believe that planned reductions and consolidation of programs may open a significant capability gap in language and cultural training at the highest levels of proficiency," the letter states.

Alongside Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., the letter is also signed by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.

Also, Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, has signed on and lent his support to the letter. 

One Congressional staffer said it could cost more in the future to restart the programs if they are indeed eliminated.

"In order to have the most highly proficient linguists, intelligence analysts and translators, you need an analytic approach to pick up on the nuances. We're cutting off a critical national security priority in providing advanced language capability. The training provides slang and colloquialisms.  If you turn it off -- turning it back on will cost three to four time what you would be paying," he said.

-- Kris Osborn can be reached at kris.osborn@military.com

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