FIFTEEN QUESTIONS FOR THE FIFTEENTH ANNIVERSARY OF EXECUTIVE ORDER 13166

FIFTEEN QUESTIONS FOR THE FIFTEENTH ANNIVERSARY OF EXECUTIVE ORDER 13166

1. Happy 15th Anniversary Executive Order 13166!  Wait, what is Executive Order 13166? 

On August 11, 2000, the President signed Executive Order 13166, “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency.”  It requires federal agencies to a) devise plans to provide to those with limited English proficiency (LEP) meaningful access to federally conducted programs and activities; and b) issue guidance to recipients of federal financial assistance to ensure that they provide meaningful access as well.

2. Oh, so the Executive Order created a new mandate that recipients have to provide interpreters and translations? 

Not exactly.  That requirement already existed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin (language) by entities that receive federal funds (recipients).  However, Executive Order 13166 imposed a new, parallel language access obligation upon federal agencies that engage in federally conducted programs and activities.  It made clear that federal agencies and recipients must meet the same standards for meaningful access.  It also reminded federal funding agencies of the need to enforce Title VI for the benefit of LEP communities.

3. Who initiated Executive Order 13166? 

President Clinton signed the Executive Order in 2000 (aboard Air Force One, FYI) and Presidents Bush and Obama have reaffirmed it.  Support over three successive Administrations demonstrates the federal government’s ongoing commitment to overcoming language barriers. 

4. What has happened during the past 15 years? 

Since 2000, over 35 federal agencies have developed and implemented language access plans.  Federal agencies have entered into contracts to translate important documents, trained staff to work effectively with interpreters, and improved interpretation when communicating with the public.  Look for a new report soon on federal language access accomplishments at LEP.gov!  During this time, federal agencies have also issued agency-specific guidance, conducted compliance reviews, investigated complaints, worked with advocates, and provided recipients with technical assistance.  Such activities have resulted in increased access by LEP persons to federally funded programs and services as intended by the Order.  Examples may be found at LEP Resources and FCS Cases.

5. Sounds great!  Are we done yet? 

We’ve made significant progress in overcoming language barriers to federally conducted and assisted programs and activities.  At the same time, not all federal agencies have implemented language access plans.  Without a formal language access policy or plan, it can be difficult to maintain momentum and resources in this area.  We encourage federal agencies to develop, update, and submit language access plans for review by the Federal Coordination and Compliance Section (FCS) and to reengage with stakeholders to evaluate the effectiveness of your language access program.  Similarly, and despite noteworthy improvements in language access to federally assisted programs, much work remains to be done there as well.  Stakeholders can also provide feedback to funding agencies as to the effectiveness of your LEP enforcement program and discuss current community needs.

6. But do we still need EO13166? 

Absolutely.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000, 8.1% of the population (or 21,320,407 people) was LEP.  Defined as individuals who self-identify as speaking English less than “very well,” the proportion of LEP individuals in the United States has remained relatively stable since 2000, while the number of people continues to rise.  In 2013, 8.5% of the population (more than 25 million people) was LEP.

7. When we talk about LEP individuals, we’re just really talking about people who speak Spanish, yes? 

Not true!  35% of the total LEP population speaks languages other than Spanish, with the largest group being 1.6 million LEP Chinese speakers.  The languages spoken by LEP individuals are tabulated here.  (2009-2013 Five Year American Community Survey estimate)

8. So where do all these LEP individuals live? 

I’m glad you asked!  The best way to find out is to explore our 15th Anniversary new LEP mapping tools, which provide downloadable LEP data and printable LEP maps by state, county, and judicial district.  We’ve also included links to other federal LEP mapping tools.  The mapping tools provide language data that federal agencies, federally funded programs, as well as advocates and non-profit organizations should find useful in determining language needs and supporting effective language assistance measures.

9. In addition to changing demographics, what other key challenges do you think the Executive Order will face in the next 15 years? 

We have seen increased reliance on technology over the last 15 years.  According to the Pew Research Center, less than half of adults in the US used the internet in 2000.  As of 2014, the Pew Research Center reports that 87% of adults use the internet, email, or access the internet via a mobile device.  Although more research is needed on the number of LEP individuals online, it is critical that any web-based communication mode should also be accessible to LEP individuals.  In addition to incorporating language access in current online efforts, we must also consider how to address the needs of LEP individuals who speak less commonly encountered languages.

10. But, won’t technology also make language access easier because of machine translation? 

Automated translation has improved.  It cannot, however, be relied upon to provide consistently accurate translations.  For a comprehensive guide to creating multilingual digital content, including an analysis of automated and machine translation, visit DigitalGov and be sure to review the Top Ten Practices for Multilingual Websites.

11. Once a federal agency commits to EO 13166, it’s pretty easy to find a competent interpreter or translator, right? 

GSA maintains a list of language service vendors.  However, it is important for each federal or federally funded agency to consider how it will assess, vet, and award translation or interpretation contracts.  For example, what is the vendor’s quality control process?  How can an agency find and correct translation errors?  To help demystify this process, FCS has issued its Translation and Interpretation Procurement Series (TIPS).  The various TIPS sheets contain information that is useful to federal agencies and recipients alike.

12. Who enforces EO 13166? 

The Attorney General designated FCS the as the office responsible for Governmentwide coordination of the Executive Order.  FCS serves as the repository for the internal federal agency language access plans that ensure meaningful access to programs and activities, and also reviews and approves each funding agency’s external LEP guidance for its recipients.  The Section has initiated a proactive approach of intra- and inter-agency consultations, leads the Title VI and LEP working groups, including the Title VI LEP Enforcement Committee, and solicits feedback from representatives of recipient groups and LEP individuals on how to effectively serve the needs of LEP individuals.

13. What is DOJ doing now to ensure compliance with EO 13166? 

In 2010, Attorney General Holder recommitted DOJ to supporting Executive Order 13166 through a memorandum to all heads of DOJ components, established a departmental Language Access Working Group, revised the Department’s language access plan, and had each component create, implement, and post its language access plan.  One year later, in a memorandum to all federal agencies, the Attorney General urged them to similarly act to promote language access both internally and with respect to their federally conducted and assisted programs, reminding them that they should issue guidance and take other actions to enforce compliance with Title VI.

14. How can LEP individuals and stakeholders get involved in overcoming language barriers? 

LEP individuals and stakeholders can work with federal agencies to identify key web content, vital information in brochures, or other important information that should be translated for the LEP community.  To the extent that a language barrier is preventing someone from obtaining meaningful access to a program or activity, an LEP individual or stakeholder can file Title VI complaints against recipients, raise issues with the federal agency in question, or inform FCS of the problem.

15. How are you celebrating this anniversary? 

A number of federal agencies and advocacy organizations have taken actions to mark the anniversary, and more are anticipated.  For example, the Civil Rights Division’s Federal Coordination and Compliance Section partnered with several other agencies and federal partners—including the Social Security Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Internal Revenue Service, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service – to create and release a language access video training series for federal employees.  The videos consist of a series of engaging, real-life scenarios inspired by both emergency and routine events that federal government staff has faced over the years.  The scenarios focus on frequently asked questions:  How do you determine whether a person is LEP?  How do you identify an LEP person’s language?  What reliable language assistance options are available?  What are some dos and don’ts?  It’s not too late to join in, so consider what you or your agency can do to promote awareness of and compliance with Executive Order 13166 by federal agencies and recipients.Happy 15th Anniversary!