Making the Case for #LanguageMatters on Capitol Hill: Language Advocacy Days 2018
In mid February, US language industry professionals came together in Washington, D.C. for Language Advocacy Days, a two-day program organized by the Joint National Committee for Languages - National Council for Languages and International Studies (JNCL – NCLIS). Participants were world language instructors, translators, interpreters, business owners, and representatives of language associations.
The agenda was to advocate for world language education funding (such as dual language immersion programs and study abroad opportunities) and labor issues that impact US language companies, such as the employee/independent contractor issue for linguists and the Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) issue.
For those who are not familiar with these issues, numerous language services companies in the USA have had run-ins with the authorities regarding taxation and classification of their translators and interpreters. On numerous occasions, language services companies have been accused of avoiding taxation by misclassifying linguists as independent contractors rather than employees. For those who work within the industry, we all know that the vast majority of translators and interpreters work as independent contractors, but for LSCs, ensuring an understanding of our industry's practices is critical.
The LPTA is a model for federal agency procurement that does not work well for purchasing language services. It's a simple principle: contracts are awarded to the lowest priced offer that is a technically "acceptable" proposal (meeting the minimum technical standard required for the task). This model works for commodities, but not for services where more nuanced considerations matter.
Collectively the 125 delegates from 32 states received training around key federal programs affecting our sector and how advocacy can help to advance policy priorities. Following preparations, we headed to the Hill and took part in a total of 175 meetings with Congressional offices and Executive Branch agencies.
Representing GALA and as a resident of Washington State, this year I took part in four meetings: with the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), Senator Patty Murray’s office, Senator Maria Cantwell’s office, and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal’s office. I was part of a delegation of six people from Washington state, and as a group, we represented a wide range of voices from the language sector.
- Caitilin Walsh, American Translators Association
- Lisa Frumkes, Rosetta Stone
- Brenda Gaver, Pacific Northwest Council for Languages
- Michele Aoki, Washington Association of Foreign Language Teachers
- Paul Aoki, University of Washington
- Laura Brandon, Globalization and Localization Association
Other delegates met with agencies such as the Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Together we raised awareness about the importance of our sector, how it helps fuel the global economy, translation’s role in national security, and the importance of continuing to train our students in world languages to be sure they are competitive in the global workforce. Across both parties, our delegates’ requests were widely well-received. Case in point, we've already seen seven new co-sponsors to HR 1239, the World Language Advancement and Readiness Act, which directs the Department of Defense to award three-year competitive grants to state and local educational agencies for world language programs in elementary and secondary schools.
As our industry continues to grow and demonstrate its importance across a wide spectrum, I encourage you to get involved with these types of initiatives: carve out time to learn about how local, regional, and federal funding programs and policies are either supporting the ecosystem of our growing global industry or hindering it. Use your experiences and voices as successful professionals and company owners to raise visibility for why language matters.