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Report 2010-106 Summary - November 2010

Dymally-Alatorre Bilingual Services Act:

State Agencies Do Not Fully Comply With the Act, and Local Governments Could Do More to Address Their Clients' Needs

HIGHLIGHTS

Our review of state and local agencies' compliance with the Dymally-Alatorre Bilingual Services Act (Act) revealed that the State Personnel Board (Personnel Board):

  • Has not effectively implemented key recommendations from our 1999 report.
  • Is not meeting most of its responsibilities under the Act, including:
    • Informing state agencies of their responsibilities and ensuring they assess their clients' language needs.
    • Evaluating compliance with the Act and ordering deficient state agencies to take corrective action.
    • Ensuring complaints are resolved timely.
  • Further, our review of 10 state agencies' compliance with the Act revealed the following:
    • Nine conducted required language surveys, yet four reported erroneous results and two could not adequately support their results.
    • None had adequate procedures in place to determine compliance with requirements for translation of certain written materials.
    • Some are not maximizing opportunities to reduce their bilingual services costs by leveraging existing California Multiple Award Schedules or the Personnel Board's contracts.

Moreover, our survey of administrators and department managers in 25 cities and counties throughout California disclosed the following:

  • Some are not fully addressing their clients' bilingual needs.
  • Several have not translated materials explaining their services.
  • Many are not aware of the Act and do not have formal policies for providing bilingual services.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

The Bureau of State Audits previously reviewed state and local agencies' compliance with the Dymally-Alatorre Bilingual Services Act (Act). In November 1999 we released a report titled Dymally-Alatorre Bilingual Services Act: State and Local Governments Could Do More to Address Their Clients' Needs for Bilingual Services (Report 99110). We stated in the report that the State Personnel Board (Personnel Board) could do more to monitor state agencies' compliance with the Act and found that the Personnel Board's report to the Legislature did not adequately present state agencies' ability to meet the language needs of their clients. Further, we reported that most of the 10 state agencies we reviewed had not adequately monitored their compliance with the Act and that many of the local agencies we surveyed were not fully addressing their clients' language needs.

During our current review, we found that the Personnel Board has not effectively implemented key recommendations from our 1999 report and that it is not meeting most of its responsibilities under the Act. Specifically, the Personnel Board has not informed all state agencies of their responsibilities under the Act, and it has not ensured that state agencies conduct language surveys to assess their clients' language needs. Additionally, the Personnel Board does not obtain necessary information from state agencies that would allow it to evaluate their compliance with the Act. Furthermore, the Personnel Board does not order deficient agencies to take the necessary actions to ensure that they have sufficient qualified bilingual staff and translated written materials to ensure that individuals who do not speak or write English or whose primary language is not English—individuals referred to in this report as limited-English-proficient (LEP) clients—are not prevented from using public services. Moreover, the Personnel Board's complaint process needs improvement because it does not ensure that complaints are resolved in a timely manner, and its report to the Legislature still does not adequately address whether state agencies are complying with the Act. Because the Personnel Board is not meeting its statutory responsibilities to monitor and enforce state agencies' compliance with the Act, the State cannot be certain that LEP clients have equal access to public services. The Personnel Board's bilingual services program manager cited a lack of resources as the primary reason that the Personnel Board is not meeting its responsibilities.

In addition, we found that state agencies are still not fully complying with the Act. Although nine of the 10 agencies we reviewed conducted language surveys in 2008, four reported erroneous survey results for one or more of their local offices, and two did not have sufficient documentation to support their survey results. The use of inaccurate survey data to evaluate the need for additional bilingual staff and to identify the written materials that need to be translated compromises state agencies' abilities to ensure they comply with the Act.

Additionally, only one of the state agencies we reviewed formally analyzed its survey results to determine whether the use of other available options, in addition to qualified bilingual staff in public contact positions, was serving the language needs of its clients, as the Act requires. None of the state agencies we reviewed had adequate procedures in place to determine whether they met the Act's requirements to translate certain written materials for their substantial LEP populations. Furthermore, most of the state agencies we reviewed have not developed plans to address their deficiencies in staffing and translated written materials. The Personnel Board has not required state agencies to evaluate their deficiencies in staffing and written materials or to develop plans to correct them. As a result, some of the state agencies we reviewed believed incorrectly that they were complying with the Act by providing the limited information that the Personnel Board asked them to provide.

We also found that some state agencies are not maximizing opportunities to reduce their costs to provide bilingual services by leveraging existing California Multiple Award Schedules (CMAS) contracts with the Department of General Services (General Services) and the Personnel Board's contracts for interpretation and translation services. For example, both the Employment Development Department (Employment Development) and the Department of Food and Agriculture entered into separate agreements with a contractor to translate documents into Spanish at a cost of 30 cents per word; however, this service is available from a CMAS vendor for 17 cents per word. If these agencies purchase these services up to their maximum contracted amounts, they will collectively end up paying approximately $47,400 more than if they purchased these services from the CMAS vendor. Further, the Department of Public Health (Public Health) and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Corrections) split contracts by entering into multiple service orders with single vendors to provide the same type of bilingual services. Thus, these agencies violated the State's contracting rules by not combining the services into one job and obtaining competitive bids.

Much like our 1999 review, our current survey of administrators and department managers in 25 cities and counties throughout California found that some are not fully addressing their clients' bilingual needs. Many local agencies indicated that they have bilingual staff members or telephone interpreters to communicate with clients who do not speak English, but several local agencies have not translated materials explaining their services into the languages spoken by a substantial number of their clients. The fact that some local agencies indicated that they are not fulfilling some clients' needs for bilingual services means these clients may not be receiving the government services to which they are entitled.

We also found that many local government administrators and department managers are not aware of the Act and do not have formal policies for providing bilingual services. For example, many administrators and managers we surveyed reported that they use informal methods to assess the needs of their LEP clients. In addition, many local agencies reported that they assess the need to provide bilingual services "when needed" or on an "ongoing" basis rather than at regular intervals. Responses to our survey questions also indicate that the responsibility for such assessments is not always clearly communicated among administrators and agency managers. Finally, we found that local agencies may also use CMAS contracts, which could help to ensure that they obtain competitive prices for bilingual services.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The Personnel Board should do the following to fulfill its responsibilities under the Act:

  • Improve its processes to identify and inform all state agencies subject to the Act about the Act's requirements so the agencies are aware of their potential responsibilities to provide certain bilingual services. The Personnel Board should also ensure that all such agencies conduct language surveys and submit implementation plans unless it exempts them from the requirements.
  • Require state agencies to provide all of the information required by the Act. For example, it should ensure that state agencies identify their deficiencies in staffing and translated written materials and that agencies' implementation plans sufficiently detail how and when they plan to address those deficiencies.
  • Assess the adequacy of state agencies' language surveys and implementation plans, and order the agencies to supplement or make changes to remedy any deficiencies and to report to the Personnel Board every six months on the agencies' progress.
  • Seek enough additional staff to fulfill its obligations under the Act, or seek changes to the Act to reduce its responsibilities to be commensurate with its staffing levels.

State agencies should do the following to ensure that they comply with the Act:

  • Make certain that they assess accurately their clients' language needs and that the information they report to the Personnel Board is correct.
  • Formally analyze their language survey results and consider other available bilingual resources to determine their true staffing deficiencies.
  • Develop procedures to identify the written materials that the Act requires them to translate into other languages and ensure that such materials are translated or made accessible to their LEP clients through other means.
  • Develop detailed corrective action plans describing how and when they will address their staffing and written materials deficiencies. In addition, state agencies should submit these corrective action plans to the Personnel Board as part of their overall implementation plans.

In addition, state agencies should leverage General Services' and the Personnel Board's contracts for interpretation and translation services to potentially reduce the costs of providing bilingual services.

Public Health and Corrections should develop procedures to detect and prevent contract splitting.

Local government agencies should consider taking the following actions to make certain that they identify and address adequately their clients' needs for bilingual services:

  • Use formal procedures to identify the languages that their clients speak and assess the sufficiency of their bilingual resources to meet these needs on a regular basis.
  • Translate materials explaining their services into languages spoken by a substantial number of their LEP clients to ensure these clients receive information about available services.
  • Develop policies that clarify local agencies' responsibilities for providing bilingual services.
  • In addition, city and county administrators should encourage local departments to consider using state CMAS contracts to obtain bilingual services whenever cost-effective.

AGENCY COMMENTS

The Personnel Board and nine of the other state agencies that we reviewed generally concurred with our conclusions and recommendations. Employment Development also generally agreed with our conclusions and recommendations, but offered clarifying information.















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