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The Climate for the Language Industry in the New Administration

Posted By William P. Rivers Ph.D., Friday, April 14, 2017

Bill Rivers
Executive Director, Joint National Committee for Languages


The question I’m asked most often goes like this: “What will the Trump Administration mean for our industry?” There are a few different versions of this question, depending on the vertical, the location, or the inclinations of the person asking it, but as a businessperson, change and the potential for instability is always uncomfortable. The short answer to the question – that it’s far too early to tell, and let’s keep calm and carry on – isn’t very satisfying. But I think that a careful analysis, coupled with a deep breath or two, should give us a more than a bit of optimism about the next few years for our industry. Change, of course, is the real constant, and we’ll talk about that, too, a little further on.

From what I gather from industry leaders and clients, as well as outside experts, is that the ground conditions for the industry as a whole haven’t changed much at all. Of course, macroeconomic factors still matter – are the US and global economies growing, what does monetary policy look like, and so forth – but historically, we’ve been pretty well insulated from downturns. This has to do with two key factors, inherent to our space: first, technology is the accelerant for growth and efficiency in localization, translation, and increasingly in interpreting. Our workflows become ever more efficient, to be sure, but more importantly, technology continues to open up exponentially more content to the high-touch, high-value added services we provide. Secondly and concomitantly, we’re expanding into new verticals in the broader economy, as the client side sees the value we bring. Online retail, point of service financial and insurance, medical device trials, customer opinion and commentary on social media – and many more verticals have come into our clientele.

As to areas which might be perceived as more politicized, in particular health care and social services, the basics of the situation have not changed. The 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Affordable Care Act (and §1557 thereof) are still the law of the land. More importantly, as social service and health care providers see more value added from language services – better outcomes, higher levels of patient satisfaction, and so forth – the legal framework mandating language services becomes less important. At the moment, the Joint National Committee for Languages sees no areas of immediate concern here; moreover, we’ve heard from LSPs in this space that growth continues.

That’s not to say that we should rest easy. Some of our verticals may well be under duress, such as those servicing international negotiations, as overseas visitors reconsider coming to the States. And, of course, Federal contracting rules – or more exactly, the inappropriate use of Federal contracting – bedevils us.  Unequal enforcement of the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contracting Act of 1965 (SCA), erroneous prevailing wage rates under the SCA, inappropriate use of contracting vehicles such as Lowest Price Technically Acceptable and reverse auctions, and the national mess of fifty-five different regimes for independent contractor classification are all perennial challenges for our industry. What the Trump Administration offers in these areas is a positive opportunity to address these issues in the Congress and the US Department of Labor, and we’re moving aggressively to do so. We’ve an informal partnership with the National Federation of Independent Businesses, whose help has been invaluable at the state level, and we’re working with the Small Business Committee in the House of Representatives on the whole range of contracting and regulatory issues laid out above. We will raise awareness – we’re still the biggest industry that nobody’s heard of – through briefings and meetings this summer, as well as working on legislative approaches to the thornier challenges –in particular the 1099/W-2 issue.

What you need to do is to stay informed! Sign up for the JNCL-NCLIS newsletter at www.languagepolicy.org for news on policy and advocacy; follow us on twitter @jnclinfo, and follow all of ALC’s feeds. Second, as always, bring value to our clients and passion to what we do. The Language Enterprise has always been dynamic, innovative, and forward-looking. These qualities will serve us well in the years ahead.

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