The hidden cost of translating federal decisions, forms and government services into up to 150 different non-English languages costs potentially billions of dollars and lawmakers concerned about transparency, spending and diluting English are demanding a full accounting.
Driven by reports that Canada's bilingual program spends $2 billion to provide everything in just two languages -- English and French -- new legislation is being introduced this week to require that all agencies provide a price tag for multilingualism.
Consider: Obamacare alone demands that call centers provide interpretation for 150 languages; a 2002 Office of Management and Budget report set a price of nearly $300 million to provide non-English translations in doctor's offices and hospitals; and a 1997 National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences report that the Feds spend $665 million a year on bilingual programs.
What's more, the administration is moving toward greater acceptance of some 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, including providing federal benefits.
A congressional official put the potential costs in the billions. "We estimate it in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, but a policy like this would help us know for sure," said the official.
Republican Missouri Rep. Sam Graves plans to introduce the "Cost of Services and Translations Act," or COST Act," as soon as Thursday that would require the accounting of multilingualism just for federal programs.
"America is a collection of people from different races, religions, and backgrounds – that is part of what makes us great," Graves said. "But a common language is what brings all of those people together to form a community," he added.
"Despite overwhelming support for the United States to adopt English as its official language, we have still not taken that important step," said Graves. "My bill will strengthen the case to make English our official language and will save the federal government millions of dollars every year."
The group U.S. English has compiled a list of expensive translation programs used by companies and governments that includes a report that, for example, teaching children English to children instead of their native language has no negative consequences.
The costs of translation quickly rise when all the elements of producing non-English forms and program explanations are added together. The bill from Graves, for example, would reveal the costs of:
-- Translators used by agencies.
-- Wages and salaries of agency workers and contractors tasked with writing the translations.
-- Printing costs.
-- Website costs.
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com.