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Washington State Coalition For Language Access

WASCLA Position Statement on Consolidation of Purchasing of Interpreter Services for State Agencies, January 2018

WASCLA Position Statement on Consolidation of Purchasing of Interpreter Services for State Agencies, January 2018

Background: Starting with the 2012 session of the Washington State Legislature, bills have been introduced each year for the purpose of consolidating the purchasing of interpreter services for state agencies. The bills have included a requirement for the Department of Enterprise Services (DES) to develop and implement a model to purchase spoken language interpreter services directly from language access providers (defined as interpreters who are independent contractors), or through scheduling- and coordinating-delivery organizations, or both.

In 2012, the Legislature requested that the Office of Financial Management (OFM) conduct a study on consolidation of procurement for interpreter services for states agencies. In early 2013, OFM released its report,  Procurement of Interpreter Services , which found that, due to the distinct missions and needs of each agency, their different ways of interacting with the public, and existing arrangements for communication services, consolidation of procurement was not generally advisable. This report also recommended that a pilot project be created to determine if utilization of the HCA Interpreter Services (IS) program would be beneficial for L&I. To date however, the recommendations of the OFM study (which now may need to be updated) have not been implemented.

Each year such legislation has been proposed, WASCLA has taken the position that it is premature to promote consolidation of procurement before undertaking a thorough analysis of the contracting methods in each agency, the current services available, and any agency-specific features that would need to be factored into any consolidation effort. Additionally, before one particular program or model is required of other state agencies, such as the HCA IS program, we have asked that a thorough assessment of that program be conducted. This will allow, in advance, to identify gaps and areas for improvement and reduce the risk of unintended consequences.

Interpreter Services is a large and important program, which WASCLA has long advocated for. Of foremost importance to WASCLA is a program that effectively makes interpreter services available whenever and wherever they are needed. Through WASCLA’s work with our coalition members, we are aware of significant barriers to utilization of the IS program by healthcare providers serving DSHS & HCA clients. These barriers to providers include technical issues, quality assurance measures, and adequacy of the interpreter pool for certain languages and geographic locations. WASCLA continues to address these issues with HCA, and in 2017 established a stakeholder engagement process specifically about the IS program.

Related to the proposed legislation, there have arisen some misperceptions about WASCLA’s support for interpreters, which needs to be addressed. Since its inception, WASCLA was founded and is guided by language access advocates, many of whom are interpreters. WASCLA has consistently supported the need for a well-qualified, well-trained, and well-paid interpreter workforce in Washington. This goal has been a focus of our work, through efforts like our annual Statewide Language Access Summits, our monthly statewide conference calls, creation of an open-access Interpreter & Translator Directory on our website, and our ongoing education and advocacy efforts. A skilled, well-remunerated interpreter workforce is an essential component of ensuring that people with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) consistently receive high quality language assistance services.

Our Position: WASCLA would gladly support consolidation following robust analysis which includes consideration of each service delivery model used by state agencies, a collaborate state agency process to determine necessary components of a consolidated IS program, and measurable outcomes that  demonstrate  greater access for LEP individuals would result for each of the programs and services under a consolidated system. In other words, WASCLA promotes an approach of evaluation and study first, and then a move toward a centralized system, or to other types of systems, after addressing issues raised in the evaluation process.

WASCLA also believes that an important first step towards improved language access services in state government would be the development of a statewide language access coordination program, established outside of any one state agency. This is a recommendation that was first made by the Governor’s Interagency Council on Health Disparities in 2014, and which has yet to be implemented. Sharing resources and expertise across state agencies would allow Washington State to capitalize on shared knowledge and assist programs in moving their language access programs forward to meet a changing demographic.

Ensuring access to communication for all Washington residents is also part of the commitment which underscores Governor Inslee’s Executive Order 17-01: Reaffirming Washington’s Commitment to Tolerance, Diversity, and Inclusiveness. Washington has the opportunity to take a thoughtful and thorough approach to designing a language access program for all of Washington’s state agencies that WASCLA could support. The program should include:
• A statewide coordinator of language services to develop a statewide Language Access Plan and to share resources among state agencies specific to serving LEP individuals;
• Evaluations of existing programs within state agencies that serve LEP individuals;
• A study of the services provided by each agency and the role language access plays within those agency services;

• Development of language access resources;

• Coordination of interpreter services contracting for state agencies; and

• Coordination of translation services for state agencies.


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