You are here
Practitioner’s Corner: Drafting Request for Proposals and Contracts for Language Access Services
By Jessica Sperling
Why use a vendor for language services?
The US government requires organizations that receive federal funds to provide language access for limited English proficient (LEP) individuals. If your organization does not have in-house translators and interpreters or qualified multilingual employees, outside vendors may be required to help serve LEP individuals. Even if your organization does have in-house translators, interpreters or qualified multilingual employees, hiring vendors can help your organization cover languages not spoken by your team or when your employees are overextended.
If your organization is interested in contracting vendors for this type of work, you are encouraged to include pertinent language in any vendor contract. The US Department of Justice has created draft language for vendor contracts — which complies with such federal award terms and conditions as Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Executive Order 13166. Access that document here.
What types of organizations offer language services?
Different types of organizations that provide interpretation and/or translation services for a fee. Many language service organizations are small, privately owned, for-profit companies, while others are a part of nonprofit community service agencies. Still others are large national corporations, as in the case of many telephonic interpretation services. Vendors can offer language access technologies that facilitate translation and interpretation, improving the efficiency of your in-house language professionals and possibly even reducing costs. For a report on these technologies and lists of select vendors, click here.
What are some key elements to include in an RFP?
The language services field is a fast-growing and changing area that is subject to little oversight and standardization, so vendors will vary significantly in the type and quality of services provided. Therefore, when drafting a formal Request for Proposals (RFP), you must clearly lay out your organization’s needs, expectations, and parameters for service evaluation. This RFP will provide guidance for vendors for their proposals, and it will help when drafting a final contract.
The specifications your organization should include in an RFP and subsequent contract will depend on many factors, including the type of service needed (translation, on-site interpretation or telephonic interpretation). Below are key elements to include in an RFP and contract; they do not represent the totality of considerations to make when drafting RFPs and contracts.
- Scope of Work: Indicate the type of service your organization needs (eg., translation, telephonic interpretation, on-site interpretation). Indicate the most common needed languages, including dialects if appropriate, for which your organization needs services. You can determine what languages and dialects are spoken by the population your organization serves through needs assessments and/or government-provided demographic material, such as the US Census or American Community Survey. Also, indicate the extent to which your organization uses technical language in the course of its business, so contract bidders can provide detail on their capacity to meet such needs. For example, if your organization works in the health care sector, signal to bidders that need the capacity work with medical terminology.
- Departments to be served: Indicate what specific agencies and offices will be served. If possible, try to include additional agencies or organizations in your RFP (and subsequently, in the contract). Having many agencies or offices using one contract is cost effective, because vendors generally provide cheaper rates to higher-volume users. It also reduces duplication of administrative work.
- Timeframes: In addition to laying out the length of the contract award, it is important to lay out expectations about the delivery of language services. This should include information on how often and when language services will be requested, as well as penalties for not meeting agreed-upon timeframes. Timeframe considerations will vary depending on the type of service your organization is requesting:
- Translation: How long will bidders have to provide translated materials? Will timeframes for delivery differ based on the type of translation (for example, a form versus a publication)?
- On-Site Interpretation: What is typical length of interaction with clients and customers? How long in advance can your organization give notice of need for an on-site interpreter? Can last-minute requests be accommodated?
- Telephonic Interpretation: How long will a client or customer wait to be connected with an interpreter?
- Cost: Detail how you will determine reimbursement and rates of pay. These determinations could take into account different rates depending on language. If your organization is new to providing language access, or if it is difficult for you to determine a basis for rates of pay, ask bidding organizations to provide their going rate for translation or interpretation. These considerations will vary depending on the type of service your organization is requesting:
- Translation: Indicate what your organization will pay per word and whether you will provide extra pay for expedited translation requests. Will your organization create an all-inclusive rate or separate rates by first translation, third-party review and desktop publishing?
- On-Site Interpretation: What will be the time measurement for pay rates — per hour, per half hour? Will your organization pay for interpreters’ travel time? Will pay rates differ based on time of day and day of week?
- Telephonic Interpretation: What will be the time measurement for pay rates — per minute, per 30 seconds? Will pay rates differ based on time of day and day of week?
- General Management: Clearly lay out the division of responsibilities between your organization and the bidder. Consider the roles of insurance, complaint resolution and contract monitoring in the contractual relationship. Lay out a process for tracking usage of language services, which party will be responsible for this, and how this data will be provided. Describe your organization’s confidentiality and safety needs and procedures.
- Human Resources Capacity: Ask bidders to indicate the number of interpreters or translators on staff and their availability. This is particularly important for high volume languages, where interpreters and translators may be working across several contracts. Also, ask for specific information on uncommon languages or dialects.
- Translation: What type of software is used? (i.e. translation memory vs. machine-based translation)? What are the limitations of the software used?
- Telephonic Interpretation: What software is used? What are the limitations of the software? What processes are in place in the event the software fails?
- On-Site Interpretation: What types of software or technical tools are used, if any?
- Translation: Do proofreaders verify the quality of the original translation? Is there some other standardization process or final quality control check? What is the bidder’s records retention policy? Will the translator(s) use glossaries you provide for organization-specific terminology?
- On-Site Interpretation: Does the interpreter have glossaries or other guides to assist in interpretation? Will the interpreter use glossaries you provide for organization-specific terminology?
- Telephonic Interpretation: Does the interpreter have glossaries or other guides to assist in interpretation? Will the interpreter use glossaries you provide for organization-specific terminology?
- Technology: Lay out expectations for the use of technology to assist in translation or interpretation. At a minimum, clearly establish whether your organization will provide technology, whether the bidder will provide the technology, and what technology the bidder uses. These considerations will vary depending on the type of service your organization is requesting:
- Quality Control: Ask the bidder to highlight their process for certifying or assessing the quality of translators and interpreters, or outline your expectations for quality assessment/certification. Ask for references, resumes, performance evaluation and monitoring forms and professional codes of ethics. You can also ask about a process for continuation of language services in the event of a disaster or emergency. Additional considerations will vary depending on the type of service your organization is requesting:
- Evaluation criteria: Decide and outline how you will weigh the importance of different aspects of the proposals you will receive. For example, costs, quality control mechanisms and management are important considerations to make when determining evaluation parameters. You can create a point or percentage scoring system to make your RFP evaluation process easier and more consistent.
The information provided is based on a review of contracts and RFPs contained on the Migration Policy Institute’s Language Portal as well as the following publications:
Roat, Cynthia. 2003. How to Choose and Use a Language Agency: A Guide for Health and Social Service Providers Who Wish to Contract With Language Agencies. The California Endowment.
United States Department of Justice. “On Choosing a Language Access Provider” http://www.justice.gov/crt/lep/resources/leptatool.htm
American Translators Association. “Translation: Getting it Right. A Guide to Buying Translations.” http://www.atanet.org/publications/getting_it_right.php
American Translators Association. “Interpreting: Getting it Right. A Guide to Buying Interpreting Services.” http://www.atanet.org/publications/getting_it_right_int.php
Jessica Sperling is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the Graduate Center of City University of New York (CUNY), where she works on issues of immigration and comparative integration processes. She holds a B.A. with honors in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis and an M.A. in Sociology from CUNY. Ms. Sperling has worked with language access implementation for the New York City Department of Education and the New York City public hospital system, and she has served as a consultant on language access issues for the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Migration Policy Institute.