All I can say is, it's about darn time.
On September 11, 2001, Arabic-speaking terrorists attacked the United States. It took nearly five years after this tragedy for President Bush to launch the National Security Language Initiative (in January 2006), aiming "to further strengthen national security ... through education, especially in developing foreign language skills. ... The NSLI will dramatically increase the number of Americans learning critical need foreign languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Farsi, and others through new and expanded programs from kindergarten through university and into the workforce. The President will request $114 million in FY07 to fund this effort."
It's taken a further 16 months for the first disbursement of these alleged funds to make the headlines, in the form of yesterday's announcement that defense contracting giant General Dynamics
Better late than never
But is it really? Better late than never, I mean. Reviewing the terms of GD's press release describing the so-called "Language Corps" project, I find little connection between the contract per se (which will tap our existing base of foreign-language speakers for urgent translation work in the event of a crisis), and the terms of the NSLI, which describes an intensive, nationwide, long-term effort to broaden the teaching of foreign languages in our schools.
Which is not to say that I think the Language Corps is a bad idea. On the contrary, in a nation of immigrants, one would think we already have millions of Arabic, Chinese, Russian, etc., speakers "pre-mixed and ready to pour." Creating an infrastructure to tap this resource in a time of need seems like a great idea, just as NLSI's promise to expand our resources was a great idea more than a year ago.
But even great ideas can have flaws, and I think a big one in yesterday's announcement is the choice of contractor. Now, I've got nothing against General personally, but I can name four defense contractors better suited for translation work just off the top of my head:
(NYSE:SAI), which does considerable translation work for the government already.
(NYSE:DCP)and L-3 (NYSE:LLL), both of which are embroiled in a high-stakes, high-publicity dispute over translation contracts in Iraq.
(NYSE:NOC), the second-biggest translator to the U.S. Army.
Is General Dynamics, better known for its M-1 Abrams tanks and Stryker APCs than its translation skills, really better than all four of these veteran translators? I suspect not. In fact, I suspect this is just another example of the government frittering away taxpayer dollars, and failing to fix the problem.
To learn about the highest-profile translation dispute of all time, relive the epic saga of Titan's attempt to sell itself to Lockheed Martin
- Titan(ic) Surfaces Unscathed
- Titan Shrugs Off Merger Mess
- Titan Tumbles
- Titan to Lockheed: Buy Me, Please!
- Titan Is Still a Buy
- Lockheed's Titanic Markdown
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- Lockheed Gets Titan
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Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above.