[Congressional Record: June 25, 2009 (Senate)]
[Page S7099-S7100]


      By Mr. WYDEN (for himself and Mr. Chambliss):
  S. 1387. A bill to enable the Director of National Intelligence to 
transfer full-time equivalent positions to elements of the intelligence 
community to replace employees who are temporarily absent to 
participate in foreign language training, and for other purposes; to 
the Select Committee on Intelligence.
  Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, today I am introducing legislation that I 
hope will enable our national intelligence agencies to increase their 
employees' proficiency in critical foreign languages. I have been a 
member of the Senate Intelligence Committee for over eight years, and 
during that time I have sat in a number of briefings and hearings that 
addressed foreign language capabilities. While specific details 
regarding the intelligence community's capabilities are generally 
classified, it is no secret that there is still a great need for more 
analysts and agents trained in key foreign languages. Over the past few 
years there have been a number of new initiatives designed to address 
this problem from different angles, and even newer initiatives are 
being introduced this year. The legislation that I am introducing 
today, which I have drafted along with Senator Chambliss of Georgia, is 
not designed to replace any of those initiatives--rather, we think it 
will complement those other initiatives by filling a key gap.
  Let me explain this gap a little, so it will be clear what problem we 
are trying to fix. Most efforts to improve the language capabilities of 
various intelligence agencies focus on recruiting Americans who have a 
background in critical foreign languages--either from their education, 
or from their family. But this only attacks the problem from one angle. 
If you want the national security workforce to have the strongest 
language skills possible, you also need to improve language training 
for people who already work for the intelligence agencies. This means 
both teaching the basics of key languages to more people, and helping 
people who are already proficient improve their skills further. 
Unfortunately, language training is time-intensive, and this can mean 
that personnel are diverted from short-term priorities.
  Here is an example of how this problem might crop up in practice. 
Imagine that you are the supervisor of a group of 10 people somewhere 
in the intelligence community, working on counterterrorism issues, and 
that one of those employees decides he wants to go spend several months 
in intensive language training to improve his Arabic. This would be a 
good career move for that individual, and a good long-term investment 
for your agency. But for you, the supervisor, it means that you might 
be short-handed for several months while one of your employees is off 
getting language training. Since you have a fixed number of positions 
available for your office, it is difficult for you to replace someone 
while they are gone. This means that as the supervisor you actually 
have an incentive to resist letting that employee head off for language 
training, since it will leave your team less well-equipped to meet 
short-term priorities.
  I am not saying that all supervisors within the intelligence 
community are focused solely on short-term priorities, to the detriment 
of our long-term security interests. But I am saying that if we want 
our intelligence agencies to effectively balance short- and long-term 
priorities, we need to give them incentives that encourage them to do 
so, and not penalize people who try to balance short-term needs and 
long-term goals.
  Here is how the bipartisan legislation that Senator Chambliss and I 
are introducing today would attempt to address this problem. Our bill 
would give the Director of National Intelligence the authority to 
transfer additional positions to offices whose personnel are

[[Page S7100]]

temporarily unavailable due to language training. The Director of 
National Intelligence is uniquely situated to evaluate which offices 
are most in need of these extra positions, and could transfer them to 
the places where they would do the most good.
  So, to return to my previous example, if you were the supervisor of a 
young counterterrorism analyst who wants to take 6 months to go learn 
Arabic, you could go ask the Director of National Intelligence to 
transfer an extra position to your office for that 6 month period. That 
way, you could bring someone else in on a temporary basis to do that 
analyst's work while they are gone for training. The analyst and the 
agency would get the long-term benefits of additional language 
training, and you, the supervisor, would not have to sacrifice in the 
  Senator Chambliss and I do not claim that this legislation will 
revolutionize the intelligence community's language capabilities 
overnight. But it is our hope that it will make it easier than it is 
today for managers to balance short- and long-term priorities. If we 
can achieve that it will be good for our national intelligence 
workforce, and for our national security interests.