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Guidance to Federal Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Limited English Proficient Persons

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Department of State.

ACTION:

Notice.

SUMMARY:

The Department of State (DOS) publishes for public comment interim final policy guidance on Title VI's prohibition against national origin discrimination as it affects limited English proficient persons.

DATES:

Comments must be submitted on or before (30) days from the date of publication. DOS will review all comments and will determine what modifications, if any, to this policy guidance are necessary.

ADDRESSES:

Interested persons should submit written comments to Moisés Behar, Chief of the Diversity Management and Outreach Section, U.S. Department of State, Office of Civil Rights, 2201 C Street, NW., Washington, DC 20520 or BeharM@state.gov; comments may also be submitted by facsimile at (202) 647-4969.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Moisés Behar, U.S. Department of State, 2201 C Street, NW., Washington, DC 20520; Tel. (202) 647-9896; e-mail BeharM@state.gov. Arrangements to receive the policy in an alternative format may be made by contacting the named individual.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d, et seq. (Title VI) and DOS regulations implementing Title VI, recipients of Federal financial assistance from the DOS (recipients) have a responsibility to ensure meaningful access by persons with limited English proficiency (LEP) to their programs and activities. See 22 CFR 141.3. Executive Order 13166, reprinted at 65 FR 50121 (August 16, 2000), directs each Federal agency that extends assistance subject to the requirements of Title VI to publish, after review and approval by the Department of Justice (DOJ), guidance for its recipients clarifying that obligation. The Executive Order also directs that all such guidance be consistent with the compliance standards and framework set forth by DOJ.

On March 14, 2002, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a report to Congress titled “Assessment of the Total Benefits and Costs of Implementing Executive Order No. 13166: Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency.” Among other things, the Report recommended the adoption of uniform guidance across all Federal agencies, with flexibility to permit tailoring to each agency's specific recipients. Consistent with this OMB recommendation, the DOJ published LEP Guidance for DOJ recipients which was drafted and organized to also function as a model for similar guidance by other Federal grant agencies. See 67 FR 41455 (June 18, 2002). This interim final DOS guidance is based upon and incorporates the legal analysis and compliance standards of the model June 18, 2002, DOJ LEP Guidance for Recipients.

The primary focus of this guidance is on entities that receive Federal financial assistance from DOS, either directly or indirectly, through a grant, cooperative agreement, contract or subcontract, and operate programs or activities or portions of programs or activities in the United States and its territories.

It has been determined that the guidance does not constitute a regulation subject to the rulemaking requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 553. It has also been determined that this guidance is not subject to the requirements of Executive Order 12866.

The text of the complete proposed guidance document appears below.

Dated: August 24, 2004.

I. Introduction

Most individuals living in the United States read, write, speak and understand English. There are many individuals, however, for whom English is not their primary language. For instance, based on the 2000 census, over 26 million individuals speak Spanish and almost 7 million individuals speak an Asian or Pacific Island language at home. If these individuals have a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English, they are considered to be limited English proficient, or “LEP.” While detailed data from the 2000 census has not yet been released, 26% of all Spanish-speakers, 29.9% of all Chinese speakers, and 28.2% of all Vietnamese-speakers reported that they spoke English “not well” or “not at all” in response to the 1990 census.

Language for LEP individuals can be a barrier to accessing important benefits or services, understanding and exercising important rights, complying with applicable responsibilities, or understanding other information provided by federally funded programs and activities. The Federal Government funds an array of services that can be made accessible to otherwise eligible LEP persons. The Federal Government is committed to improving the accessibility of these programs and activities to eligible LEP persons, a goal that reinforces its equally important commitment to promoting programs and activities designed to help individuals learn English. Recipients should not overlook the long-term positive impacts of incorporating or offering English as a Second Language (ESL) programs in parallel with language assistance services. ESL courses can serve as an important adjunct to a proper LEP plan. However, the fact that ESL classes are made available does not obviate the statutory and regulatory requirement to provide meaningful access for those who are not yet English proficient. Recipients of Federal financial assistance have an obligation to reduce language barriers that can preclude meaningful access by LEP persons to important government services.[1]

In certain circumstances, failure to ensure that LEP persons can effectively participate in or benefit from federally assisted programs and activities may violate the prohibition under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d and Title VI regulations against Start Printed Page 53485national origin discrimination. The purpose of this policy guidance is to assist recipients in fulfilling their responsibilities to provide meaningful access to LEP persons under existing law. This policy guidance clarifies existing legal requirements for LEP persons by providing a description of the factors recipients should consider in fulfilling their responsibilities to LEP persons.[2] These are the same criteria DOS will use in evaluating whether recipients are in compliance with Title VI and Title VI regulations.

As with most government initiatives, this policy guidance requires balancing several principles. While this Guidance discusses that balance in some detail, it is important to note the basic principles behind that balance. First, we must ensure that federally-assisted programs aimed at the American public do not leave some individuals behind simply because they face challenges communicating in English. This is of particular importance because, in many cases, LEP individuals form a substantial portion of those serviced by federally-assisted programs. Second, we must achieve this goal while finding constructive methods to reduce the costs of LEP requirements on small businesses, small local governments, or small non-profits that receive Federal financial assistance.

In addition, many DOS recipients also receive Federal financial assistance from other Federal agencies, such as the Department of Education or the Department of Health and Human Services. While guidance from those Federal agencies is consistent with the DOS guidance, recipients receiving assistance from multiple agencies should review those agencies' guidance documents at http://www.lep.gov for a more focused explanation of how the standards apply in portions of programs or activities that are the focus of funding from those agencies.

There are many productive steps that the Federal Government, either collectively or as individual grant agencies, can take to help recipients reduce the costs of language services without sacrificing meaningful access for LEP persons. Without these steps, certain smaller grantees may well choose not to participate in federally-assisted programs due to such costs, threatening the critical functions that the programs strive to provide. To that end, the Department plans to continue to provide assistance and guidance in this important area. In addition, DOS plans to work with representatives of recipient organizations, other Federal agencies, and LEP persons to identify and share model plans, examples of best practices, and cost-saving approaches. Moreover, DOS intends to explore how language assistance measures, resources and cost-containment approaches developed with respect to its own federally conducted programs and activities can be effectively shared or otherwise made available to recipients, particularly small businesses, small local governments, and small non-profits. An interagency working group on LEP has developed a Web site, http://www.lep.gov, to assist in disseminating this information to recipients, Federal agencies, and the communities being served.

Many commentators have noted that some have interpreted the case of Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275 (2001), as impliedly striking down the regulations promulgated under Title VI that form the basis for the part of Executive Order 13166 that applies to federally-assisted programs and activities. We have taken the position that this is not the case, and will continue to do so. Accordingly, we will strive to ensure that federally-assisted programs and activities work in a way that is effective for all eligible beneficiaries, including those with limited English proficiency.

II. Legal Authority

Section 601 of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d, provides that no person shall “on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Section 602 authorizes and directs Federal agencies that are empowered to extend Federal financial assistance to any program or activity “to effectuate the provisions of [section 601] by issuing rules, regulations, or orders of general applicability.” 42 U.S.C. 2000d-1.

Department of State regulations promulgated pursuant to Section 602 forbid recipients from “utiliz[ing] criteria or methods of administration which have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color, or national origin, or have the effect of defeating or substantially impairing accomplishment of the objectives of the program as respects individuals of a particular race, color, or national origin.” 22 CFR 141.3.

The Supreme Court, in Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974), interpreted regulations promulgated by the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, including a regulation similar to that of DOS, 45 CFR 80.3(b)(2), to hold that Title VI prohibits conduct that has a disproportionate effect on LEP persons because such conduct constitutes national origin discrimination. In Lau, a San Francisco school district that had a significant number of non-English speaking students of Chinese origin was required to take reasonable steps to provide them with a meaningful opportunity to participate in federally-funded educational programs.

On August 11, 2000, Executive Order 13166 was issued. “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency,” 65 FR 50121 (August 16, 2000). Under that order, every Federal agency that provides financial assistance to non-Federal entities must publish guidance on how their recipients can provide meaningful access to LEP persons and thus comply with Title VI regulations forbidding funding recipients from “restrict[ing] an individual in any way in the enjoyment of any advantage or privilege enjoyed by others receiving any service, financial aid, or other benefit under the program” or from “utiliz[ing] criteria or methods of administration which have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color, or national origin, or have the effect of defeating or substantially impairing accomplishment of the objectives of the program as respects individuals of a particular race, color, or national origin.”

On that same day, DOJ issued a general guidance document addressed to “Executive Agency Civil Rights Officers” setting forth general principles for agencies to apply in developing guidance documents for recipients pursuant to the Executive Order. “Enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 National Origin Discrimination Against Persons With Limited English Proficiency,” 65 FR 50123 (August 16, 2000) (DOJ LEP Guidance).

Subsequently, Federal agencies raised questions regarding the requirements of the Executive Order, especially in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275 (2001). On October 26, 2001, the Civil Rights Division of DOJ issued a memorandum clarifying and reaffirming the DOJ LEP Guidance in light of Start Printed Page 53486 Sandoval.[3] The Assistant Attorney General stated that because Sandoval did not invalidate any Title VI regulations that proscribe conduct that has a disparate impact on covered groups—the types of regulations that form the legal basis for the part of Executive Order 13166 that applies to federally assisted programs and activities—the Executive Order remains in force.

This guidance document is thus published at the direction of Executive Order 13166 and pursuant to Title VI and the Title VI regulations. It is consistent with the DOJ Guidance. 67 FR 41455 (June 18, 2002) (also available at http://www.lep.gov).

III. Who Is Covered?

The purpose of Title VI, and one purpose of Executive Order 13166, is to ensure nondiscrimination in the United States or its territories in federally assisted programs and activities. Thus, the primary focus of this guidance is all entities that receive Federal financial assistance from DOS, either directly or indirectly, through a grant, cooperative agreement, contract or subcontract, and operate programs or activities or portions thereof in the United States and its territories. Title VI applies to all Federal financial assistance, which includes, but is not limited to, awards and loans of Federal funds, awards or donations of Federal property, details of Federal or federally funded personnel, or any agreement, arrangement or other contract that has as one of its purposes the provision of assistance.

Examples of recipients of DOS assistance covered by this guidance include, but are not limited to:

—Recipients of grants designed to assist in receiving, resettling, and providing support for refugees in the United States;

—State and local governments and related organizations who are recipients of Foreign Service officer special domestic assignments or other State Department-funded positions;

—Organizations and institutions receiving grants to implement cultural, academic, or other exchange programs domestically;

—Nonprofit organizations; and

—Institutions of higher learning.

Title VI prohibits discrimination in any program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance. In most cases, when a recipient receives Federal financial assistance for a particular program or activity, all operations of the recipient are covered by Title VI, not just the part of the program that uses the Federal assistance. Thus, all parts of the recipient's operations would be covered by Title VI, even if the Federal assistance were used only by one part.[4]

Finally, some recipients operate in jurisdictions in which English has been declared the official language. Nonetheless, these recipients continue to be subject to Federal non-discrimination requirements, including those applicable to the provision of federally assisted services to persons with limited English proficiency.

IV. Who Is a Limited English Proficient Individual?

Individuals who do not speak English as their primary language and who have a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English can be limited English proficient, or “LEP,” and can be entitled to language assistance with respect to a particular type of service, benefit, or encounter.

Examples of populations likely to include LEP persons who are encountered and/or served by DOS recipients and should be considered when planning language services include, but are not limited to:

—Persons who come into contact with resettlement services;

—Persons who participate in cultural or academic exchanges funded by DOS;

—Persons who encounter or who are eligible to receive benefits or services from a State or local agency that is a recipient of DOS assistance;

—Persons who encounter or are eligible to participate in portions of programs or activities of an institution of higher learning that receives DOS assistance;

—Other LEP persons who encounter or are eligible to receive benefits or services from DOS recipients; and

—Parents and family members of the above.

V. How Does a Recipient Determine the Extent of Its Obligation To Provide LEP Services?

Recipients are required to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to their programs and activities by LEP persons. While designed to be a flexible and fact-dependent standard, the starting point is an individualized assessment that balances the following four factors: (1) The number or proportion of LEP persons eligible to be served or likely to be encountered by the program or activity or portion thereof; (2) the frequency with which LEP individuals come in contact with the program or activity or portion thereof; (3) the nature and importance of the program, activity, service, benefit, or information provided by the recipient to people's lives; and (4) the resources available to the grantee/recipient and costs. As indicated above, the intent of this guidance is to suggest a balance that ensures meaningful access by LEP persons to critical services while not imposing undue burdens on small businesses, small local governments, or small nonprofits.

After applying the above four-factor analysis, a recipient may conclude that different language assistance measures are sufficient for the different types of encounters. For instance, some portions of a recipient's program or activity will be more important than others and/or have greater impact on or contact with LEP persons, and thus may require more in the way of language assistance. The flexibility that recipients have in addressing the needs of the LEP populations they serve does not diminish, and should not be used to minimize, the obligation that those needs be addressed. DOS recipients should apply the following four factors to the various kinds of contacts that they have with the public to assess language needs and decide what reasonable steps they should take to ensure meaningful access for LEP persons.

(1) The Number or Proportion of LEP Persons Served or Encountered in the Eligible Service Population

One factor in determining what language services recipients should provide is the number or proportion of LEP persons from a particular language group served or encountered in the eligible service population. The greater the number or proportion of these LEP persons, the more likely language Start Printed Page 53487services are needed. Ordinarily, persons “eligible to be served, or likely to be directly affected, by” a recipient's program or activity, are those who are served or encountered in the eligible service population. This population will be program-specific, and includes persons who are in the geographic area that has been approved by the Federal grant agency as the recipient's service area. For instance, where a portion of a nonprofit that provides resettlement services serves a large LEP population, the appropriate service area is most likely that portion of the nonprofit organization, and not the entire population served by the agency. Where no service area has previously been approved, the relevant service area may be that which is approved by State or local authorities or designated by the recipient itself, provided that these designations do not themselves discriminatorily exclude certain populations. In addition, there may be circumstances in which recipients appropriately identify English language skills as an eligibility criterion, such as in the case of a university English-language masters program. But other portions of the program, such as a university daycare or clinic open to the public, or various public community events, cultural exchanges, campus security, or other portions of a recipient's operations, may have a more significant LEP population that may be encountered or is eligible to participate. When considering the number or proportion of LEP individuals in a service area, recipients should consider LEP parent(s) when their English-proficient or LEP minor children and dependents encounter the recipient's program or activity.

Recipients should first examine their prior experiences with LEP encounters and determine the breadth and scope of language services that were needed. In conducting this analysis, it is important to include language minority populations that are eligible for their programs or activities but may be underserved because of existing language barriers.

Other data in addition to prior experiences should be consulted to refine or validate a recipient's prior experience, including the latest census data for the area served, data from school systems and from community organizations, and data from State and local governments.[5] Community agencies, school systems, religious organizations, legal aid entities, and others can often assist in identifying populations for whom outreach is needed and who would benefit from the recipients' programs and activities were language services adequately provided.

(2) The Frequency With Which LEP Individuals Come in Contact With the Program

Recipients should assess, as accurately as possible, the frequency with which they have or should have contact with an LEP individual from different language groups seeking assistance. The more frequent the contact with a particular language group, the more likely that enhanced language services in that language are needed. The steps that are reasonable for a recipient that serves an LEP person on a one-time basis will be very different than those expected from a recipient that serves LEP persons daily. It is also advisable to consider the frequency of different types of language contacts. For example, frequent contacts with Spanish-speaking people who are LEP may require certain assistance in Spanish. Less frequent contact with different language groups may suggest a different and less intensified solution. If an LEP individual accesses a program or service on a daily basis, a recipient has greater duties than if the same individual's program or activity contact is unpredictable or infrequent. But even recipients that serve LEP persons on an unpredictable or infrequent basis should use this balancing analysis to determine what to do if an LEP individual seeks services under the program in question. This plan need not be intricate. It may be as simple as being prepared to use one of the commercially-available telephonic interpretation services to obtain immediate interpreter services. In applying this standard, recipients should take care to consider whether appropriate outreach to LEP persons could increase the frequency of contact with LEP language groups.

(3) The Nature and Importance of the Program, Activity, or Service Provided by the Program

The more important the activity, information, service, or program, or the greater the possible consequences of the contact to the LEP individuals, the more likely language services are needed. A recipient needs to determine whether denial or delay of access to services or information could have serious economic, safety, education or even life-threatening implications for the LEP individual. For instance, the obligations of a federally-assisted entity providing resettlement assistance or a State or local agency providing health, safety, or economic aid differ from those of a federally-assisted program providing purely for cultural exchange (however, if a language barrier could result in denial or delay of access to important benefits, services, or information, or have a serious implication for a LEP person who participates in the cultural exchange, the legal obligation to provide language services in that circumstance would be higher). Decisions by a Federal, State, or local entity to make an activity compulsory or required in order to maintain or receive an important benefit or service or preserve a right, such as particular educational programs, appeals procedures, or compliance with rules and responsibilities, can serve as strong evidence of the program's importance.

(4) The Resources Available to the Recipient and Costs

A recipient's level of resources and the costs that would be imposed on it may have an impact on the nature of the steps it should take. Smaller recipients with more limited budgets are not expected to provide the same level of language services as larger recipients with larger budgets. In addition, “reasonable steps” may cease to be reasonable where the costs imposed substantially exceed the benefits.

Resource and cost issues, however, can often be reduced by technological advances, reasonable business practices, and the sharing of language assistance materials and services among and between recipients, advocacy groups, and Federal grant agencies. Where appropriate, training bilingual staff to act as interpreters and translators, information sharing through industry groups, telephonic and video conferencing interpretation services, pooling resources and standardizing documents to reduce translation needs, using qualified translators and interpreters to ensure that documents need not be “fixed” later and that inaccurate interpretations do not cause delay or other costs, centralizing interpreter and translator services to achieve economies of scale, or the formalized use of qualified community Start Printed Page 53488volunteers, for example, may help reduce costs.[6]

Recipients should carefully explore the most cost-effective means of delivering competent and accurate language services before limiting services due to resource concerns. Large entities and those entities serving a significant number or proportion of LEP persons should ensure that their resource limitations are well-substantiated before using this factor as a reason to limit language assistance. Such recipients may find it useful to be able to articulate, through documentation or in some other reasonable manner, their process for determining that language services should be limited based on resources or costs.

This four-factor analysis necessarily implicates the “mix” of LEP services required. Recipients have two main ways to provide language services: Oral interpretation either in person or via telephone interpretation service (hereinafter “interpretation”) and written translation (hereinafter “translation”). Oral interpretation can range from on-site interpreters for critical services provided to a high volume of LEP persons to access through commercially-available telephonic interpretation services. Written translation, likewise, can range from translation of an entire document to translation of a short description of the document. In some cases, language services should be made available on an expedited basis while in others the LEP individual may be referred to another office of the recipient for language assistance.

The correct mix should be based on what is both necessary and reasonable in light of the four-factor analysis. Regardless of the type of language service provided, quality and accuracy of those services can be critical in order to avoid serious consequences to the LEP person and to the recipient. Recipients have substantial flexibility in determining the appropriate mix.

VI. Selecting Language Assistance Services

Academic institutions, nonprofit organizations, and other recipients of DOS funds have a long history of interacting with people with varying language backgrounds and capabilities. In fact, many DOS recipients choose not only to provide interpretation and translation services, but also to provide English-language training for LEP individuals. This approach is consistent with the dual purposes of Executive Order 13166, and DOS's goal is to continue to encourage these efforts and to encourage the sharing of such promising practices among recipients, as well as to ensure meaningful linguistic access for LEP individuals.

Recipients have two main ways to provide language services: oral and written language services. Quality and accuracy of the language service is critical in order to avoid serious consequences to the LEP person and to the recipient.

A. Oral Language Services (Interpretation)

Interpretation is the act of listening to something in one language (source language) and orally translating it into another language (target language). Where interpretation is needed and is reasonable, recipients should consider some or all of the following options for providing competent interpreters in a timely manner:

Competence of interpreters. When providing oral assistance, recipients should ensure competency of the language service provider, no matter which of the strategies outlined below are used. Competency requires more than self-identification as bilingual. Some bilingual staff and community volunteers, for instance, may be able to communicate effectively in a different language when communicating information directly in that language, but not be competent to interpret in and out of English. Likewise, they may not be able to do written translations.

Competency to interpret, however, does not necessarily mean formal certification as an interpreter, although certification is helpful. When using interpreters, recipients should ensure that they:

—Demonstrate proficiency in and ability to communicate information accurately in both English and in the other language and identify and employ the appropriate mode of interpreting (e.g., consecutive, simultaneous, summarization, or sight translation);

—Have knowledge in both languages of any specialized terms or concepts peculiar to the entity's program or activity and of any particularized vocabulary and phraseology used by the LEP person; [7] and understand and follow confidentiality and impartiality rules to the same extent as the recipient employee for whom they are interpreting and/or to the extent their position requires.

—Understand and adhere to their role as interpreters without deviating into a role as counselor, legal advisor, or other roles, particularly in a formal context such as a hearing.

While quality and accuracy of language services is critical, the quality and accuracy of language services is nonetheless part of the appropriate mix of LEP services required. The quality and accuracy of language services in an administrative hearing or in the provision of information regarding legal rights and responsibilities, for instance, must be extraordinarily high, while the quality and accuracy of language services in a public lecture regarding cultural exchange programs need not meet the same exacting standards.

Finally, when interpretation is needed and is reasonable, it should be provided in a timely manner. To be meaningfully effective, language assistance should be timely. While there is no single definition for “timely” applicable to all types of interactions at all times by all types of recipients, one clear guide is that the language assistance should be provided at a time and place that avoids the effective denial of the service, benefit, or right at issue or the imposition of an undue burden on or delay in important rights, benefits, or services to the LEP person. For example, when the timeliness of services is important, such as with certain activities of DOS recipients providing resettlement services, health, economic, educational, and safety services, and when important legal rights and responsibilities are at issue, a recipient would likely not be providing meaningful access if it had one bilingual staffer available one day a week to provide the service. Such conduct would likely result in delays for LEP persons that would be significantly greater than those for English proficient persons. Conversely, where access to or exercise of a service, benefit, or right is not effectively precluded by a reasonable delay, language assistance can likely be delayed for a reasonable period. Start Printed Page 53489

Hiring bilingual staff. When particular languages are encountered often, hiring bilingual staff offers one of the best, and often most economical, options. Recipients can, for example, fill public contact positions, such as hotline operators, guards, social workers, or refugee greeters, and others with staffers who are bilingual and competent to communicate directly with LEP persons in their language. If bilingual staffers are also used to interpret between English speakers and LEP persons, or to orally interpret written documents from English into another language, they should be competent in the skill of interpreting. Being bilingual does not necessarily mean that a person has the ability to interpret. In addition, there may be times when the role of the bilingual employee may conflict with his or her role as an interpreter. Effective management strategies, including any appropriate adjustments in assignments and protocols for using bilingual staff, can ensure that bilingual staff are fully and appropriately utilized. When bilingual staff cannot meet all of the language service obligations of the recipient, the recipient should turn to other options.

Hiring staff interpreters. Hiring interpreters may be most helpful where there is a frequent need for interpreting services in one or more languages. Depending on the facts, sometimes it may be necessary and reasonable to provide on-site interpreters to provide accurate and meaningful communication with an LEP person.

Contracting for interpreters. Contract interpreters may be a cost-effective option when there is no regular need for a particular language skill. In addition to commercial and other private providers, many community-based organizations and mutual assistance associations provide interpretation services for particular languages. Contracting with and providing training regarding the recipient's programs and processes to these organizations can be a cost-effective option for providing language services to LEP persons from those language groups.

Using telephone interpreter lines. Telephone interpreter service lines often offer speedy interpreting assistance in many different languages. They may be particularly appropriate where the mode of communicating with an English proficient person would also be over the phone. Although telephonic interpretation services are useful in many situations, it is important to ensure that, when using such services, the interpreters used are competent enough to interpret any technical or legal terms specific to a particular program that may be important parts of the conversation. Nuances in language and non-verbal communication can often assist an interpreter and cannot be recognized over the phone. Video teleconferencing may sometimes help to resolve this issue where appropriate or necessary. In addition, where documents are being discussed, it is important to give telephonic interpreters adequate opportunity to review the document prior to the discussion so that any logistical problems could be addressed.

Using community volunteers. In addition to consideration of bilingual staff, staff interpreters, or contract interpreters (either in person or by telephone) as options to ensure meaningful access by LEP persons, use of recipient-coordinated community volunteers, working with, for instance, community-based organizations may provide a cost-effective supplemental language assistance strategy under appropriate circumstances. This strategy may be particularly useful in providing language access for a recipient's less critical programs and activities. To the extent the recipient relies on community volunteers, it is often best to use volunteers who are trained in the information or services of the program and can communicate directly with LEP persons in their language. Just as with all interpreters, community volunteers used to interpret between English speakers and LEP persons, or to orally translate documents, should be competent in the skill of interpreting and knowledgeable about applicable confidentiality and impartiality rules. Recipients should consider formal arrangements with community-based organizations that provide volunteers to address these concerns and to help ensure that services are available more regularly.

Use of family and friends and informal interpreters. Although recipients should not plan to rely on an LEP person's family members, friends, or other informal interpreters to provide meaningful access to important programs and activities, where LEP persons so desire, they should be permitted to use, at their own expense, an interpreter of their own choosing (whether a professional interpreter, family member, friend, or other person) in place of or as a supplement to the free language services expressly offered by the recipient. LEP persons may feel more comfortable when a trusted family member or friend acts as an interpreter. The recipient should take care to ensure that the LEP person's choice is voluntary, that the LEP person is aware of the possible problems if the preferred interpreter is a minor child, and that the LEP person knows that a competent interpreter could be provided by the recipient at no cost. In addition, in exigent circumstances that are not reasonably foreseeable, temporary use of interpreters not provided by the recipient may be necessary. However, with proper planning and implementation, recipients should be able to avoid most such situations.

Recipients, however, should take special care to ensure that informal interpreters are appropriate in light of the circumstances and subject matter of the program, service or activity, including protection of the recipient's own administrative or enforcement interest in accurate interpretation. In many circumstances, family members (especially children), friends, or other informal interpreters are not competent to provide quality and accurate interpretations. Issues of confidentiality, privacy, or conflict of interest may also arise. LEP individuals may feel uncomfortable revealing or describing sensitive, confidential, or potentially embarrassing information to a family member, friend, or member of the local community. In addition, such informal interpreters may have a personal connection to the LEP person or an undisclosed conflict of interest. For these reasons, when oral language services are necessary, recipients should generally offer competent interpreter services free of cost to the LEP person. For DOS recipient programs and activities, this is particularly true in situations in which health, safety, economic livelihood, or access to important benefits and services are at stake, or when mistakes in interpretation or translation could have serious consequences to the LEP person.

While issues of competency, confidentiality, and conflict of interest in the use of family members (especially children), friends, or other informal interpreters often make their use inappropriate, the use of these individuals as interpreters may be an appropriate option where proper application of the four factors would lead to a conclusion that recipient-provided services are not necessary. An example of this is a voluntary educational tour of a university offered to the public. There, the importance and nature of the activity may be relatively low and unlikely to implicate issues of confidentiality, conflict of interest, or the need for accuracy. In addition, the resources needed and costs of providing language services may be high, and the number or proportion and frequency of LEP encounters may be quite low. In such a setting, an LEP person's use of Start Printed Page 53490family, friends, or others to interpret may be appropriate.

B. Written Language Services (Translation)

Translation is the replacement of a written text from one language (source language) into an equivalent written text in another language (target language).

What documents should be translated? After applying the four-factor analysis, a recipient may determine that an effective LEP plan for its particular program or activity includes the translation of vital written materials into the language of each frequently-encountered LEP group eligible to be served and/or likely to be affected by the recipient's program.

Such written materials could include, for example:

—Consent, application, and complaint forms.

—Intake forms with the potential for important consequences.

—Written notices of rights, denial, loss, or decreases in benefits or services, and other hearings.

—Notices advising LEP persons of free language assistance.

—Resettlement assistance materials, including materials designed to assist individuals in how to apply for or access services, benefits, or other assistance.

—Written tests that do not assess English language competency, but test competency for a particular license, job, or skill for which knowing English is not required.

—Applications to participate in a recipient's program or activity or to receive recipient benefits or services.

Whether or not a document (or the information it solicits) is “vital” may depend upon the importance of the program, information, encounter, or service involved, and the consequence to the LEP person if the information in question is not provided accurately or in a timely manner. For instance, a flyer announcing a public lecture on cultural exchanges would not generally be considered vital, whereas written information provided to a newly-arrived refugee regarding resettlement services should likely be considered vital. Where appropriate, recipients are encouraged to create a plan for consistently determining, over time and across its various activities, what documents are “vital” to the meaningful access of the LEP populations they serve.

Classifying a document as vital or non-vital is sometimes difficult, especially in the case of outreach materials like brochures or other information on rights and services. Awareness of rights or services is an important part of “meaningful access.” Lack of awareness that a particular program, right, or service exists may effectively deny LEP individuals meaningful access. Thus, where a recipient is engaged in community outreach activities in furtherance of its activities, it should regularly assess the needs of the populations frequently encountered or affected by the program or activity to determine whether certain critical outreach materials should be translated. Community organizations may be helpful in determining what outreach materials may be most helpful to translate. In addition, the recipient should consider whether translations of outreach material may be made more effective when done in tandem with other outreach methods, including utilizing the ethnic media, schools, and religious and community organizations to spread a message.

Sometimes a document includes both vital and non-vital information. This may be the case when the document is very large. It may also be the case that providing the title and a phone number for obtaining more information on the contents of the document in frequently-encountered languages other than English is critical, but the document is sent out to the general public and cannot reasonably be translated into many languages and/or the language of the recipient is not known. Thus, vital information may include, for instance, the provision of information in appropriate languages other than English regarding where a LEP person might obtain an interpretation or translation of the document.

Into what languages should documents be translated? The languages spoken by the LEP individuals with whom the recipient has contact determine the languages into which vital documents should be translated. A distinction should be made, however, between languages that are frequently encountered by a recipient and less commonly-encountered languages. Many recipients serve communities in large cities or across the country. They regularly serve LEP persons who speak dozens and sometimes over 100 different languages. To translate all written materials into all of those languages is unrealistic, for although recent technological advances have made it easier for recipients to store and share translated documents, such an undertaking could incur substantial costs and require substantial resources. Nevertheless, well-substantiated claims of lack of resources to translate all vital documents into dozens of languages do not necessarily relieve the recipient of the obligation to translate those documents into at least several of the more frequently-encountered languages and to set benchmarks for continued translations into the remaining languages over time. As a result, the extent of the recipient's obligation to provide written translations of documents should be determined by the recipient on a case-by-case basis, looking at the totality of the circumstances in light of the four-factor analysis. Because translation is a one-time expense, consideration should be given to whether the upfront cost of translating a document (as opposed to oral interpretation) should be amortized over the likely lifespan of the document when applying this four-factor analysis.

Safe harbor. Many recipients would like to ensure with greater certainty that they comply with their obligations to provide written translations in languages other than English. Paragraphs (a) and (b) outline the circumstances that can provide a “safe harbor” for recipients regarding the requirements for translation of written materials. A “safe harbor” means that if a recipient provides written translations under these circumstances, such action will be considered strong evidence of compliance with the recipient's written translation obligations.

The failure to provide written translations under the circumstances outlined in paragraphs (a) and (b) does not mean there is non-compliance. Rather, they provide a common starting point for recipients to consider whether and at what point the importance of the service, benefit, or activity involved; the nature of the information sought; and the number or proportion of LEP persons served call for written translations of commonly-used forms into frequently-encountered languages other than English. Thus, these paragraphs merely provide a guide for recipients that would like greater certainty of compliance than can be provided by a fact-intensive, four-factor analysis.

Example:

Even if the safe harbors are not used, if written translation of a certain document(s) would be so burdensome as to defeat the legitimate objectives of its program, the translation of the written materials is not necessary. Other ways of providing meaningful access, such as effective oral interpretation of certain vital documents, might be acceptable under such circumstances.

Also, certain languages (e.g., Hmong) are oral rather than written, and thus a high percentage of such LEP speakers will likely be unable to read translated documents or written instructions since it is only recently that such languages Start Printed Page 53491have been converted to a written form. Other populations may have low literacy rates as well. Analysis, including consultation with a range of community groups, may provide a recipient with insight into whether translation of vital documents meets the goal of providing meaningful access, or whether it makes more sense to focus those resources on oral, and, where appropriate, graphics-or visually-based information exchange.

Safe harbor. The following actions will be considered strong evidence of compliance with the recipient's written translation obligations:

(a) The DOS recipient provides written translations of vital documents for each eligible LEP language group that constitutes five percent or 1,000, whichever is less, of the population of persons eligible to be served or likely to be affected or encountered. Translation of other documents, if needed, can be provided orally; or

(b) If there are fewer than 50 persons in a language group that reaches the five percent trigger in (a), the recipient does not translate vital written materials but provides written notice in the primary language of the LEP language group of the right to receive competent oral interpretation of those written materials, free of cost.

These safe harbor provisions apply to the translation of written documents only. They do not affect the requirement to provide meaningful access to LEP individuals through competent oral interpreters where oral language services are needed and are reasonable. For example, even when there is only one refugee being served in a particular language, vital information should be provided orally, even if it is not translated in writing.

Competence of translators. As with oral interpreters, translators of written documents should be competent. Many of the same considerations apply. However, the skill of translating is very different from the skill of interpreting, and a person who is a competent interpreter may or may not be competent to translate.

Particularly where legal or other vital documents are being translated, competency can often be achieved by the use of certified translators. Certification or accreditation may not always be possible or necessary.[8] Competence can often be ensured by having a second, independent translator “check” the work of the primary translator. Alternatively, one translator can translate the document, and a second, independent translator could translate it back into English to check that the appropriate meaning has been conveyed. This process is called “back translation.”

Translators should understand the expected reading level of the audience and, where appropriate, have fundamental knowledge about the target language group's vocabulary and phraseology. Sometimes direct translation of materials results in a translation that is written at a much more difficult level than the English language version or has no relevant equivalent meaning. Community organizations may be able to help consider whether a document is written at a good level for the audience. Also, there may be languages which do not have an appropriate direct translation of some terms. The translator should be able to provide an appropriate translation and should also make the recipient aware of this transformation. Recipients can then work with translators to develop a consistent and appropriate set of descriptions of these terms in that language that can be used again, when appropriate. Likewise, consistency in the words and phrases used to translate terms of art, legal, or other technical concepts can help to avoid confusion by LEP individuals and may reduce costs. Creating or using existing glossaries of commonly-used terms may be useful for LEP persons and translators and cost-effective for the recipient. Providing translators with examples of previous accurate translations of similar material by the recipient, other recipients, or Federal agencies may be helpful.

While quality and accuracy of translation services is critical, the quality and accuracy of translation services is nonetheless part of the appropriate mix of LEP services required. For instance, documents that are simple and have no legal or other consequence for LEP persons who rely on them may call for translators that are less skilled than important documents with legal or other information upon which reliance has important consequences (including, e.g., information or documents of DOS recipients regarding certain health, economic, education, and safety services and certain legal rights). The permanent nature of written translations, however, imposes additional responsibility on the recipient to ensure that the quality and accuracy permit meaningful access by LEP persons.

VII. Elements of an Effective Plan on Language Assistance for LEP Persons

After completing the four-factor analysis and deciding what language assistance services are appropriate, a recipient should develop an implementation plan to address the identified needs of the LEP populations they serve. Recipients have considerable flexibility in developing this plan. The development and maintenance of a periodically-updated written plan on language assistance for LEP persons (LEP plan) for use by recipients serving the public will likely be the most appropriate and cost-effective means of documenting compliance and providing a framework for the provision of timely and reasonable language assistance. Moreover, such written plans would likely provide additional benefits to a recipient's managers in the areas of training, administration, planning, and budgeting. These benefits should lead most recipients to document in a written LEP plan their language assistance services, and how staff and LEP persons can access those services. Despite these benefits, certain DOS recipients, such as recipients serving very few LEP persons and recipients with very limited resources, may choose not to develop a written LEP plan. However, the absence of a written LEP plan does not obviate the underlying obligation to ensure meaningful access by LEP persons to a recipient's program or activities. Accordingly, in the event that a recipient elects not to develop a written plan, it should consider alternative ways to articulate in some other reasonable manner a plan for providing meaningful access. Entities having significant contact with LEP persons, such as schools, religious organizations, community groups, and groups working with new immigrants can be very helpful in providing important input into this planning process from the beginning.

The following five steps may be helpful in designing an LEP plan and are typically part of effective implementation plans.

(1) Identifying LEP Individuals Who Need Language Assistance

The first two factors in the four-factor analysis require an assessment of the number or proportion of LEP individuals eligible to be served or encountered and the frequency of encounters. This requires recipients to identify LEP persons with whom it has contact.

One way to determine the language of communication is to use language identification cards (or “I speak cards”), Start Printed Page 53492which invite LEP persons to identify their language needs to staff. Such cards, for instance, might say “I speak Spanish” in both Spanish and English, “I speak Vietnamese” in both English and Vietnamese, etc. To reduce costs of compliance, the Federal Government has made a set of these cards available on the Internet. The Census Bureau “I speak card” can be found and downloaded at http://www.usdoj.gov/​crt/​cor/​13166.htm and http://www.lep.gov. When records are normally kept of past interactions with members of the public, the language of the LEP person can be included as part of the record. In addition to helping employees identify the language of LEP persons they encounter, this process will help in future applications of the first two factors of the four-factor analysis. In addition, posting notices in commonly-encountered languages, notifying LEP persons of language assistance will encourage them to self-identify.

(2) Language Assistance Measures

An effective LEP plan would likely include information about the ways in which language assistance will be provided. For instance, recipients may want to include information on at least the following:

—Types of language services available.

—How staff can obtain those services.

—How to respond to LEP callers.

—How to respond to written communications from LEP persons.

—How to respond to LEP individuals who have in-person contact with recipient staff.

—How to ensure competency of interpreters and translation services.

(3) Training Staff

Staff should know their obligations to provide meaningful access to information and services for LEP persons. An effective LEP plan would likely include training to ensure that:

—Staff know about LEP policies and procedures.

—Staff that have contact with the public (or those in a recipient's custody) are trained to work effectively with in-person and telephone interpreters.

Recipients may want to include this training as part of the orientation for new employees. It is important to ensure that all employees in public contact positions (or having contact with those in a recipient's custody) are properly trained. Recipients have flexibility in deciding the manner in which the training is provided. The more frequent the contact with LEP persons, the greater the need will be for in-depth training. Staff with little or no contact with LEP persons may only have to be aware of an LEP plan. However, management staff, even if they do not interact regularly with LEP persons, should be fully aware of and understand the plan so they can reinforce its importance and ensure its implementation by staff.

(4) Providing Notice to LEP Persons

Once an agency has decided, based on the four factors that it will provide language services, it is important for the recipient to let LEP persons know that those services are available and that they are free of charge. Recipients should provide this notice in a language LEP persons will understand. Examples of notification that recipients should consider include:

—Posting signs in intake areas and other entry points. When language assistance is needed to ensure meaningful access to information and services, it is important to provide notice in appropriate languages in intake areas or initial points of contact so that LEP persons can learn how to access those language services. This is particularly true in areas with high volumes of LEP persons seeking access to certain health, or educational, resettlement, safety, or economic services or activities run by DOS recipients. For instance, signs in intake offices could state that free language assistance is available. The signs should be translated into the most common languages encountered and should explain how to get the language help.[9]

—Stating in outreach documents that language services are available from the agency. Announcements could be in, for instance, brochures, booklets, and outreach and recruitment information. These statements should be translated into the most common languages and could be “tagged” onto the front of common documents.

—Working with community-based organizations and other stakeholders to inform LEP individuals of the recipients' services, including the availability of language assistance services.

—Using a telephone voice mail menu. The menu could be in the most common languages encountered. It should provide information about available language assistance services and how to access them.

—Including notices in local newspapers in languages other than English.

—Providing notices on non-English-language radio and television stations about the available language assistance services and how to get them.

—Making presentations and/or notices at schools and religious organizations.

(5) Monitoring and Updating the LEP Plan

Recipients should, where appropriate, have a process for determining, on an ongoing basis, whether new documents, programs, services, and activities need to be made accessible for LEP individuals, and they may want to provide notice of any changes in services to the LEP public and to employees. In addition, recipients should consider whether changes in demographics, types of services, or other needs require annual reevaluation of their LEP plan. Less frequent reevaluation may be more appropriate where demographics, services, and needs are more static. One good way to evaluate the LEP plan is to seek feedback from the community.

In their reviews, recipients may want to consider assessing changes in:

—Current LEP populations in the service area or populations affected or encountered.

—Frequency of encounters with LEP language groups.

—Nature and importance of activities to LEP persons.

—Availability of resources, including technological advances and sources of additional resources, and the costs imposed.

—Whether existing assistance meets the needs of LEP persons.

—Whether staff members know and understand the LEP plan and how to implement it.

—Whether identified sources for assistance are still available and viable.

In addition to these five elements, effective plans set clear goals, management accountability, and opportunities for community input and planning throughout the process.

VIII. Voluntary Compliance Effort

The goal for Title VI and Title VI regulatory enforcement is to achieve voluntary compliance. The requirement to provide meaningful access to LEP persons is enforced and implemented by DOS through the procedures identified in the Title VI regulations. These procedures include complaint investigations, compliance reviews, efforts to secure voluntary compliance, and technical assistance. Start Printed Page 53493

The Title VI regulations provide that DOS will investigate whenever it receives a complaint, report, or other information that alleges or indicates possible noncompliance with Title VI or its regulations. If the investigation results in a finding of compliance, DOS will inform the recipient in writing of this determination, including the basis for the determination. DOS uses voluntary mediation to resolve most complaints. However, if a case is fully investigated and results in a finding of noncompliance, DOS must inform the recipient of the noncompliance through a Letter of Findings that sets out the areas of noncompliance and the steps that must be taken to correct the noncompliance. It must attempt to secure voluntary compliance through informal means. If the matter cannot be resolved informally, DOS must secure compliance through the termination of Federal assistance after the DOS recipient has been given an opportunity for an administrative hearing and/or by referring the matter to a DOJ litigation section to seek injunctive relief or pursue other enforcement proceedings. DOS engages in voluntary compliance efforts and provides technical assistance to recipients at all stages of an investigation. During these efforts, DOS proposes reasonable timetables for achieving compliance and consults with and assists recipients in exploring cost-effective ways of coming into compliance. In determining a recipient's compliance with the Title VI regulations, DOS's primary concern is to ensure that the recipient's policies and procedures provide meaningful access for LEP persons to the recipient's programs and activities.

While all recipients must work toward building systems that will ensure access for LEP individuals, DOS acknowledges that the implementation of a comprehensive system to serve LEP individuals is a process and that a system will evolve over time as it is implemented and periodically reevaluated. As recipients take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to federally assisted programs and activities for LEP persons, DOS will look favorably on the intermediate steps recipients take that are consistent with this guidance, and that, as part of a broader implementation plan or schedule, move their service delivery system toward providing full access to LEP persons. This does not excuse noncompliance but instead recognizes that full compliance in all areas of a recipient's activities, and for all potential language minority groups, may reasonably require a series of implementing actions over a period of time. However, in developing any phased implementation schedule, DOS recipients should ensure that the provision of appropriate assistance for significant LEP populations affected by activities having a significant impact on the health, safety, legal rights, education, economic status or immigration status, or livelihood of beneficiaries is addressed first. Recipients are encouraged to document their efforts to provide LEP persons with meaningful access to federally assisted programs and activities.

Start Signature

Dated: August 24, 2004.

Barbara S. Pope,

Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights, Department of State.

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Footnotes

1.  DOS recognizes that many recipients had language assistance programs in place prior to the issuance of Executive Order 13166. This policy guidance provides a uniform framework for a recipient to integrate, formalize, and assess the continued vitality of these existing and possibly additional reasonable efforts based on the nature of its program or activity, the current needs of the LEP populations it encounters, and its prior experience in providing language services in the community it serves.

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2.  The policy guidance is not a regulation but rather a guide. Title VI and its implementing regulations require that recipients take responsible steps to ensure meaningful access by LEP persons. This guidance provides an analytical framework that recipients may use to determine how best to comply with statutory and regulatory obligations to provide meaningful access to the benefits, services, information, and other important portions of their programs and activities for individuals who are limited English proficient.

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3.  The memorandum noted that some commentators have interpreted Sandoval as impliedly striking down the disparate-impact regulations promulgated under Title VI that form the basis for the part of Executive Order 13166 that applies to federally assisted programs and activities. See, e.g., Sandoval, 532 U.S. at 286, 286 n.6 (“[W]e assume for purposes of this decision that section 602 confers the authority to promulgate disparate-impact regulations; * * * We cannot help observing, however, how strange it is to say that disparate-impact regulations are ‘inspired by, at the service of, and inseparably intertwined with' Sec. 601 * * * when Sec. 601 permits the very behavior that the regulations forbid.”). The memorandum, however, made clear that DOJ disagreed with the commentators' interpretation. Sandoval holds principally that there is not private right of action to enforce Title VI disparate-impact regulations. It did not address the validity of those regulations or Executive Order 13166 or otherwise limit the authority and responsibility of Federal grant agencies to enforce their own implementing regulations.

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4.  However, if a Federal agency were to decide to terminate Federal funds based on noncompliance with Title VI or its regulations, only funds directed to the particular program or activity that is out of compliance would be terminated. 42 U.S.C. 2000d-1.

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5.  The focus of the analysis is on lack of English proficiency, not the ability to speak more than one language. Note that demographic data may indicate the most frequently spoken languages other than English and the percentage of people who speak that language who speak or understand English less than well. Some of the most commonly spoken languages other than English may be spoken by people who are also overwhelmingly proficient in English. Thus, they may not be the languages spoken most frequently by limited English proficient individuals. When using demographic data, it is important to focus in on the languages spoken by those who are not proficient in English.

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6.  Small recipients with limited resources may find that entering into a bulk telephonic interpretation service contract will prove cost-effective.

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7.  Many languages have “regionalisms,” or differences in usage. For instance, a word that may be understood to mean something in Spanish for someone from Cuba may not be so understood by someone from Mexico. In addition, there may be languages which do not have an appropriate direct interpretation of some terms and the interpreter or translator should be so aware and be able to provide the most appropriate interpretation. The interpreter should likely make the recipient aware of the issue and the interpreter and recipient can then work to develop a consistent and appropriate set of descriptions of these terms in that language that can be used again, when appropriate.

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8.  For those languages in which no formal accreditation currently exists, a particular level of membership in a professional translation association can provide some indicator of professionalism.

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9.  The Social Security Administration has made such signs available at http://www.ssa.gov/​multilanguage/​langlist1.htm. These signs could, for example, be modified for recipient use.

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[FR Doc. 04-19944 Filed 8-31-04; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 4710-10-P