Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii announced that he’s sponsoring the National Language Coordination Act of 2009, which he also sponsored in 2005. The bill would create a cabinet-level language czar to “oversee, coordinate, and implement continuing national security and language education initiatives.” Sounds great, but if the czar has no budget control, it probably won’t work. As I wrote for the New Republic (the original TNR link is dead),
Akaka’s bill gives the czar a budget for p.r. but no oversight over anyone else’s budget, so the czar wouldn’t set goals and steer a national language strategy to meet them as much as hope for the cooperation of the agencies represented on the council. Akaka’s bill doesn’t specify to whom the czar would report, either, which leaves no one responsible when the goals aren’t met.
Even though we have a president with a basic proficiency in Indonesian, the country’s language needs are no less dire now than they are then, which means that Akaka’s bill has the same limitations — though as the post-9/11 political will fades, establishing even a symbolic role would be a victory. (One name that came up a lot as a language czar candidate is Leon Panetta, now head of the CIA–who else could fill the role?)