Washington, D.C. – Today, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) and Ranking Member Rob Wittman (R-Va.) convened a hearing to receive testimony from civilian and military leadership on the Department of Defense’s challenges in building foreign language skills and cultural competencies.


Subcommittee Chairman Vic Snyder said, “American military forces need foreign language and cultural skills to operate effectively in both today’s and tomorrow’s security environment.   The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan underscore the importance of foreign language and cultural competence.  It was clear from today’s hearing that we are making progress, but our military has inherited a national problem that slows them down considerably.  Our educational system doesn’t make foreign language study a priority, and it doesn’t have the infrastructure to support widespread fluency in foreign languages, particularly those spoken where our forces are operating and may operate in the future. ”


Ranking Member Wittman said, “The need for more language and culture training for our general purpose forces has only gained importance since our November 2008 report was published.  Increasing numbers of combatant commanders have stressed the need for these skills in their areas of operation.  I look forward to future reports of progress in defense language programs which will have a direct link to increased effectiveness of our warfighters.”


Witnesses at today’s hearing included Mrs. Nancy Weaver, Director of the Defense Language Office; Brigadier General Walter Golden, U.S. Army, Director of the  J-1 Manpower and Personnel Directorate; and  Ms. Sharon Pickup, Director of the Office of Defense Capabilities and Management at the U.S. Government Accountability Office.


The witnesses discussed the Department’s and services’ progress and their improvements to their language proficiency and cultural awareness programs and their current challenges, given deficiencies the nation’s educational system. Today, and in the foreseeable future, military operations require U.S. military personnel to work alongside multinational partners and among local populations.  The Department of Defense has placed greater emphasis on transforming language skills, cultural awareness, and regional proficiency capabilities.  As DOD completes its assessments and its efforts to develop its strategic plan, the subcommittee expects to see further advancements and steps forward in developing the capabilities U.S. military forces needed for mission success.