Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Something's Not Right

I am certainly not an expert in this area, but it seems sensible to me, given that we've invaded two countries in the middle east since 9/11, that demand for Arabic speakers in the DoD, CIA, NSA, State Department, etc. would have spiked considerably since 9/11. So I have to admit that I am surprised that the State Department's "full-time Arabic-speaking staff [has] grown since 2001 from 198 to 231." Maybe the other departments have been more successful and maybe those other departments are where demand has really increased or maybe this number is just not the right number, but I am surprised that State has only increased its number of full-time Arabic speakers by 15% in the past five years.

Am I wrong to believe that demand should have risen by more than this? If not, why has supply not risen to meet demand (or why has demand not risen to the levels I imagine)? The article linked to above suggests that security restrictions are keeping people from these jobs. While this surely could explain some of a potential supply shortfall, in 5 years presumably one can produce a large number of Arabic speakers.

Indeed, (at least at the undergraduate level) it seems like 9/11, etc. dramatically increased the number of students enrolled in Arabic (at least at Harvard). Enrollment in beginning and intermediate Arabic courses (particularly among undergraduates) has more than doubled since the pre-9/11 era. Oddly, though, enrollment in advanced Arabic is essentially unchanged in the period.

So why has the State department only increased its employment of full-time Arabic speakers by 15%? (And if I recall correctly, the State Department isn't the only one with a potential problem. I seem to remember something about the NSA being way behind in translating all their phone recordings, so there seems to be an actual shortage.) Is the government not offering a high enough wage to eliminate the shortage? If so, why? This seems like important human capital for the government to have right now.

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