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Renewing a Commitment to Language Access

February 25, 2011
Whether in an emergency or in the course of everyday business, government agencies must always be ready and able to communicate effectively with all members of the public. Events such as the H1N1 influenza pandemic, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Gulf oil spill, and the 2010 Decennial Census highlight the need for effective communication, including communication with persons who are limited English proficient (LEP). Recognizing the critical need for effective communication with LEP individuals, in August of 2000, President Clinton issued Executive Order 13166 (PDF), directing each federal agency to develop and implement systems by which LEP persons could meaningfully access the agency's services.  The order also directed those agencies offering federal financial assistance to issue guidance to recipients of such assistance on their legal obligations to ensure meaningful access for LEP persons under the national origin nondiscrimination provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, a 2006 language access survey of the federal government revealed that not all federal agencies were aware of, and fully in compliance with, principles of language access. An April 2010 Government Accountability Office report on language access at federal agencies further confirmed these findings, and offered concrete suggestions for improving the federal government’s efforts to comply with Executive Order 13166.  Further, interagency language access conferences held over the last few years have revealed that, while the federal government as a whole has taken considerable strides toward providing language access in some areas, the implementation of comprehensive language access programs remains uneven throughout the government and among recipients of federal financial assistance, especially in the face of limited resources and personnel. In order to address these deficiencies and ensure that all federal agencies are providing the language access necessary to communicate effectively with LEP individuals, the Attorney General has issued a memorandum asking each federal agency to renew its commitment to implementing Executive Order 13166 (PDF).  The memo outlines specific steps agencies should take to improve language access, which will be monitored by the Civil Rights Division.  Learn more about Executive Order 13166 and the provision of language access, here.
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Updated April 7, 2017