Amazing that in this day and age of global, cultural and linguistic awareness, that a company would be willing to send unqualified linguist into a battle zone, but that is exactly what is being alleged.  In an article released on  September 8, 2010 by ABC News, (http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/afghanistan-whistleblower-claims-us-interpreters-speak-afghan-languages/story?id=11578169) they document and detail the claims of a former employee of Mission Essential Personnel (MEP) who claims that documents and scores have been falsified in order to meet their governmental contract demands.

As a Language Service Provider (LSP) we often hear about the errors and wrongdoings of interpreters or of those who claim to be an “interpreter” or “translator” but have no formal training or knowledge of our industry.  It happens every day in our country but when the U.S. sends a “professional linguist” to Afghanistan, I can only imagine how stressful interpreting in those settings can be.    I find it hard to believe that a company would willingly put profits before lives, especially a company that is primarily focused within the linguistics industry.  The goal for most business is to provide a profit to their shareholders, but ethics and morals play a vital role as well, and did MEP were protocols overlooked in order to turn a profit?

In July, the CEO of MEP testified before a congressional committee that MEP was “able to achieve a 97 percent fill rate of the government’s requirement for linguists. Previous contractors never exceeded 43 percent.”  Now from the perspective of a Language Service Provider based in Chicago but providing services nationwide, I can attest that the Afghan languages such as Dari and Pashto are often difficult to locate qualified interpreters and translators for.  This does not make MEP guilty in my mind, as I believe that everyone is “innocent until proven guilty”, but this does raise some alarming red flags in my opinion.  How did MEP achieve such high success when the Army’s previous providers achieved only 43% success rate?  A few percentage points and I could buy it, but 54% percent higher success rate then previous suppliers?  That just does not sound right in my opinion.  I understand that MEP’s interpreters/translators can earn up to $210,000 per year which is very attractive and I am sure adds to the recruitment of linguists, but did MEP cut corners to achieve such staggering results?  What training was provided by MEP for their linguists?  How were the tests and evaluations conducted?  Without knowing MEP’s internal control mechanisms and quality control, I can’t fathom such a high success rate of qualified candidates.

It is interesting that MEP signed a $492.4 million dollar contract with the Army Intelligence and Security Command on August 18, 2010.  I would have to assume that the Army Intelligence and Security Command is pleased with their previous work or a new contract would not have been issued, but I do wonder how these allegations will affect MEP.

This will be a story to follow closely, but if these allegations against MEP are true, then how many lives have been lost and what will the consequences be for MEP’s management team?  If the allegations are false, how much damage has been done to MEP’s reputation and how do they respond and repair their organization?  It’s a tough situation and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Written by Kevin McQuire