Florida Senator Rick Scott is known for his stance against public service. He has been pushing to convert the entire federal workforce to term or temporary appointments without justification. Now, the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) seems to be taking Scott’s advice on how to undermine the civil service.
According to AFGE Local 1263, which represents all 1,700 DLIFLC teachers, the institute relies on 12-month term appointments to fill the majority of its foreign language teachers so they can be easily fired if the agency needs to beef up staffing in another area. Besides having no job security, the teachers are underpaid due to the agency’s 50 individual faculty pay steps and avoidance of any periodic pay-step increases.
DLIFLC also frequently uses personnel caps, under which any expansion of specific language programs, such as Russian or Chinese, necessitates the downsizing or closure of other language programs, such as Urdu, Hebrew, French, Japanese and Pashto. When this occurs, faculty members have no “RIF rights”. And although they are officially “encouraged” to apply for other internally announced DLIFLC positions, there is no obligation to provide them with suitable alternate employment – even positions for which they are currently qualified.
They also don’t have any transfer rights into positions in other agencies in the federal government – regardless of how desperately instructors, translators or interpreters of their foreign language are being sought by such agencies as the State Department, the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security.
The current situation at DLIFLC illustrates the harmful effects of the special personnel authorities under Title 10, which the agency seeks to expand.
“The department is able to take advantage of highly trained faculty at DLIFLC because native speakers of languages are often recent immigrants who are among the most vulnerable of populations. Taking advantage of people in this way is not consistent with the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion. Expanding the use of a tool just because one can does not make it right,” AFGE Local 1263 President Dennis Hickman wrote in a letter to Defense Business Board Chairwoman Deborah Lee James ahead of a recent scheduled board meeting.
These special personnel authorities under 10 USC 1595 have resulted in difficulties hiring and retaining highly talented and educated staff. The local is urging the board to recommend that the DoD submit a legislative proposal to Congress for repealing this section of the law in order to provide employees with Title 5 RIF rights.
AFGE is also seeking to address budgetary issues with the DLIFLC and make sure that it is placed organizationally in the right place in the department so that it has champions for additional resources when there are new language requirements added to its teaching mission. It’s possible that that placement might be with the Special Operations Command or Intelligence communities rather than buried under the Army, where a colonel level commander is in competition with three-star commanders for resources.
Additionally, AFGE will pursue amendments in the Defense appropriations process to seek additional Full Time Equivalent authorizations and funding to retain existing faculty and pay for funding additional faculty for new languages, rather than the current process of cutting existing faculty to make room for new faculty.
The Institute, headquartered in Monterey, California, offers an intensive language program for 3,500 military students in courses ranging from 36 to 64 weeks in length. The courses cover a vast array of languages taught by 1,700 highly educated foreign language instructors. In addition to its courses at the California campus, its faculty members teach intermediate- and advanced-level students at Language Training Detachments at military bases across the United States, in Europe and in South Korea. Since its inception in 1947, DLIFLC has graduated over 230,000 linguists in over 65 foreign languages.
Unlike other DoD civilian employees who are under the Title 5 personnel system, foreign language instructors have limited rights and a substandard pay system despite their important mission.