The US Department of State (DOS) has announced that it expects to issue agreements with roughly 1,000 independent interpreters and translators in FY 2022. The deadline for responses is 5 p.m. EDT on August 30, 2021, and the DOS Office of Language Services plans to release the agreements on October 1, 2021.
The DOS emphasized that the blanket purchase agreements (or BPAs, as they call it) for language services, estimated to run between USD 15m and 20m in total, do not guarantee assignments.
Bidders must agree to accept the rates of payment — “not published for the general public” — established by the Office of Language Services each fiscal year. (In the past, it was possible to glean information on rates from the General Services Administration, the government’s centralized procurement agency.)
Subject matter experts within the Office of Language Services will recommend recipients based on such factors as evaluated skills sets, past performance, and availability to accept assignments.
Freelance translators and interpreters are an integral part of the workforce behind the DOS; the agency acknowledges that permanent, direct-hire interpreter and translator positions are rare.
Data from US federal spending portal USAspending.gov shows that, since October 1, 2020, the Office of Language Services has maintained 662 active contracts with freelancers slated to end September 30, 2021.
Citizenship is not a requirement for contract interpreters and translators to work with the DOS, although freelancers must be able to work in the US legally. The agency does not sponsor visas for contract linguists.
For translators, the DOS recommends at least five years of experience with the required subject matter. The process leading up to an initial contract assignment typically takes four to six months, which includes a four-hour translation test in Washington, DC and a background check.
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Potential interpreters can apply to take the test on one of three levels — liaison, seminar, or conference — with conference interpreters possessing the most developed skills.
The Office of Language Services invites successful candidates to a further evaluation consisting of an interview and an interpreting skills test. They recommend taking the test on as many levels as possible during a single test date as examinees must pay their own way to the testing site at the nation’s capital.