It should come as no surprise that the federal government is one of the biggest spenders when it comes to purchasing language services. Government spending for language services (NAICS Code: 541930) in FY2017 totaled more than $512 million. The top three agencies are the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security.
The trend for spending in the government translation market has increased significantly over the past two decades. While government agencies and the military often have some of their own language specialists, the majority of language services are actually outsourced to language service providers (LSPs).
What Kind of Language Services Does the Government Buy?
The government is one of the most diverse spenders when it comes to language services. From localizing a website into multiple languages to provide support for Limited English Proficient (LEP) communities right here in the United States, to providing translators and interpreters for ongoing military deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, as well as interpreters for meetings with foreign diplomats, translations of scientific studies, and much more.
For example, if you are a U.S. veteran living overseas and receive benefits from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), you can submit your healthcare expenditures to the VA in order to be reimbursed. Since these veterans are living overseas, the documentation they submit with their claims are often in a foreign language. In order for the VA to process and validate the claim, the VA must first have the documents translated into English. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is also similar in terms of requiring large volumes of document translations for claim filings.
The military and intelligence community are some of the largest spenders when it comes to language services. They hire large numbers of contract linguists to serve not only as interpreters during missions, but also to work as language analysts, cryptographers, monitoring of foreign language media communications, and much more. Most of these linguists, in addition to having to pass a rigorous language testing battery, are also often required to obtain a security clearance for these types of jobs.
One final example is the Department of Justice (DOJ), which includes multiple different offices and entities, each which have their own language needs. For example, the DOJ needs large numbers of interpreters for the struggling immigration court system. They also need translators to translate foreign language evidentiary documentation pertaining to ongoing criminal and civil matters, monitoring foreign language communications in the federal prison system, and translating materials for Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) requests, to name only a few.
How Does the Government Buy Language Services?
The procurement system for the government to purchase services and products can be complex. Each department has its own procurement process, but they are all generally governed by the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). Many government agencies use the General Services Administration (GSA) system to solicit pre-approved and vetted companies with which the government has negotiated prices and contract terms, known as “GSA Contract Holders.” Government agencies can post their requirement within the GSA eBuy system, and all vendors who possess a GSA contract may respond to and submit bids for these projects and/or services.
Some federal agencies prefer to procure services and products outside of the GSA system, however. There are a number of other portals online where government buyers can post their requirements and a Request for Quote (RFQ) or Request for Proposal (RFP). For example, the Beta.SAM system (formerly known as “FedBizOpps”) and FedConnect are two popular systems.
Finally, for smaller purchases most government agencies can directly approach a language service provider (LSP) and procure their services without a formal contract, as long as the value is under the “micro-purchase threshold” (usually around $2,500) and pay those costs with a government credit card.
In conclusion, the federal government (not to mention state governments) are one of the largest buyers of translation, interpretation, localization, and other language services. The ability to obtain professional, high-quality language services is critical not only for providing vital information to Limited English Proficient (LEP) communities in the United States, but also for scientific exchanges (e.g., cooperation with Russia on space exploration projects), foreign diplomacy, law enforcement, and much more. The companies and linguists that work with the government perform many critical services.
Latitude Prime is also honored to be a GSA contract holder and to work with the federal government on a number of important contracts, and providing a variety of services, from over-the-phone interpretation to translation and more.