December 11, 2000
Chief, Coordination and Review Section
Civil Rights Division
Department of Justice
P.O. Box 66560
Washington, D.C. 20035-6560
Dear Ms. Friedlander:
Re: Executive Order 13166, Improving Access to Services for Persons with L:imited English Proficiency
This letter provides the Federal Trade Commission's response to Executive Order 13166 ("Order") 65 Fed. Reg. 50,121 (August 16, 2000). This report includes information on how the FTC makes its programs and activities accessible to LEP individuals and what the agency intends to do in the future to make its programs and activities even more accessible to LEP individuals.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an independent law enforcement agency and the only federal agency with both consumer protection and competition jurisdiction over broad sectors of the economy. The Commission strives to enhance the smooth operation of the marketplace by eliminating acts or practices that are unfair or deceptive. The FTC protects American consumers in both domestic and world marketplaces. Our experience demonstrates that competition among producers and accurate information in the hands of consumers yield products at the lowest prices, spurs innovation, and strengthens the economy.
Because the FTC does not provide federal financial assistance for outside recipients, we include no agency-specific guidance for such recipients. This response addresses LEP accessibility in FTC programs and activities. In drafting this response, we have considered the Department's LEP guidance document, "Enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - National Origin Discrimination Against Persons With Limited English Proficiency," 65 Fed. Reg. 50123 (August 16, 2000).
Because the FTC is a law enforcement agency and does not provide "benefits and services" in the traditional sense as reflected throughout the Order and guidance, it is not entirely clear how the Order might apply to the FTC. Nevertheless, we have reviewed the FTC's activities in outreach to and education of members of the public with limited English proficiency, the translation of FTC agency literature, and our consumer complaint handling systems.
CURRENT AND PAST FTC EFFORTS TO MAKE PROGRAMS AND ACTIVITIES ACCESSIBLE TO LEP INDIVIDUALS
The FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection ("BCP") has done considerable work in making consumer education information accessible to LEP individuals. For example, this past year BCP produced five Spanish language radio public service announcement ("PSA") scripts dealing with children's online privacy. The announcements offered basic advice about protecting children's privacy online and directed listeners to the FTC's toll-free helpline and website. In May and August, PSAs were sent to 250 Spanish language radio stations, with exposure to an audience of between 11 and 13 million.
BCP has also provided twenty-four translations of consumer education brochures and pamphlets in Spanish since 1997. These translations cover a wide range of topics, from telemarketing to fair debt collection. The translations were done with the assistance of the regional offices. These translations are also available on the FTC's website. In addition, the FTC co-produced a brochure, entitled "Looking for the Best Mortgage" with several federal agencies. The Federal Reserve Board is translating the brochure into Spanish and will make 20,000 copies available for the FTC to distribute.
BCP worked with the Miami-Dade Transit Authority and the Detroit Department of Transportation to educate consumers, including mass transit riders, about employment scams. The Bureau convinced each city to donate advertising space on their buses and rail cars for public service messages in Spanish and English about federal and postal job scams.
The FTC's initiatives in protecting LEP consumers usually come in response to specific cases where LEP communities are targeted to particular cases of fraud. For example, in 1997 the FTC, along with its Mexican counterpart Procuraduria Federal del Consumidor de Mexico ("PROFECO"), the Food and Drug Administration, and seven state Attorneys General engaged in a joint law enforcement and public education initiative to combat fraudulent health care product advertisements targeted at Spanish speaking consumers. The operation was called "Campaña Alerta". In fact, many of the consumer education brochure translations concerning health care were done as a result of this operation. This operation also resulted in settlements with four companies that prohibited the companies from making any unsubstantiated claims in the future. It was followed by a second similar operation, "Campaña Alerta II".
Further, the FTC's Consumer Response Center ("CRC") has Spanish-fluent staff who handle calls from Spanish-speaking consumers. The FTC also plans on producing a consumer complaint form in Spanish. As shown, the Spanish speaking community is the subject of most LEP initiatives of the FTC. This is due in part to the growing size of the Hispanic-American community, and growing frequency of consumer fraud cases targeting that community. That is not to say that the FTC does not protect or engage in outreach to other LEP groups. For example, the Seattle and San Francisco regional offices have given presentations to members of the Asian-American community on scams that have affected their community.
The regional offices are on the front lines of the FTC's battles to protect the American consumer. Therefore, it is fitting that many of the initiatives to protect LEP individuals will take place there. In the Northeast Regional Office ("NERO") based in New York, staff members have engaged in many outreach programs with communities containing a large number of LEP individuals. For example, the Assistant Regional Director has appeared on consumer segments for news shows broadcast on both of the major Spanish language networks, Telemundo and Univision. As part of the "Campaña Alerta" operations, the NERO also brought three Spanish language advertisement cases, In the Matter of Venegas, Inc., et al., 1998 FTC LEXIS 3 (January 23,1998), In the Matter of Nutrivida, Inc. et al., 1998 FTC LEXIS 100 (September 10, 1998), In the Matter of Efficient Labs, Inc., et al., 124 FTC 291 (September 12,1997). NERO has also conducted consumer advocate training sessions in lower income communities, including some lower income Hispanic communities.
NERO also produces press releases in both English and a second language when the relevant case involves a specific immigrant community. This office has also worked with the Russian community in translating into Russian a brochure on wealth building scams. In the antitrust arena, NERO sponsored a seminar on U.S. antitrust laws for Puerto Rican business and medical professionals and representatives of trade groups. This grew out of an antitrust case involving a physician group in Puerto Rico. La Asociacion Medica De Puerto Rico, 119 FTC 772 (June 2, 1995).
The SWRO in Dallas has expressed a great interest in protecting LEP consumers of Hispanic origin. As mentioned earlier, the regional offices, including SWRO, assisted the BCP in translating its consumer education brochures. SWRO has also produced and distributed five Spanish PSA scripts, one for television and four for radio, on health fraud. Also, that office translated press releases into Spanish and distributed them among the Spanish language media. Furthermore, SWRO's phone mail message was modified to provide Spanish information to Spanish-speaking consumers. On the law enforcement side, besides taking the lead in both Campaña Alerta operations, SWRO brought the first Used Car Rule cases against dealers advertising in Spanish, but failing to display or provide a Spanish language buyer's guide as required by the Rule. In addition, SWRO organized two Health Claim Internet Surf Days, in which participants surfed the Internet for potentially deceptive advertising claims for health care products and treatment in the respective languages, and sent electronic mail messages back in the appropriate language to the advertisers pointing out they must have evidence to back up their claims.
The San Francisco Regional Office of the Western Region ("WRSF") has also dealt with the LEP issue extensively due to the demographics of its region. It translates some agency brochures and press releases, and sends representatives to give out pamphlets and answer questions at local cultural events, such as a local "Cinco de Mayo" festival and San Francisco Carnivale. In addition, a staff member visits elderly Asian-American consumers at the On Lok Senior Center where she passes out brochures, gives presentations and answers questions with the help of a translator provided by the center. WRSF has also participated in consumer fairs targeting the Hispanic community that were sponsored by the San Jose Mercury News and KRON, the NBC affiliate in San Francisco. As part of the "Campaña Alerta" campaigns, this office reached a settlement in one Spanish language advertisement case, In the Matter of Kave Elahie, 124 FTC 407 (September 19, 1997).
Another part of the Western Region, the Los Angeles Regional Office ("WRLA") participates in outreach activities to LEP individuals in its ethnically diverse region. WRLA currently sends representatives and provides Spanish language brochures to a convention hosted by the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs. WRLA also has staffed the FTC booth at the annual convention of the National Council of LaRaza.
The FTC's Northwest Regional Office ("NWRO"), based in Seattle, also has an LEP outreach program. For example, an NWRO representative gave a presentation on consumer rights at Centro Latino, an Hispanic community center, in Spanish. NWRO also made a presentation on consumer and credit issues to teachers of English as a Second Language ("ESL") at the Seattle Women's Refugee Alliance, as well as a similar presentation to ESL students at Women's Alliance in Tacoma, WA. Further, ESL teachers attended an adult literacy program at a suburban Seattle community college where NWRO gave presentations on credit and used car scams. NWRO also submits consumer protection articles to Latino Northwest Magazine, which are then published in both English and Spanish. NWRO is also in contact with local community groups, such as an Asian Community Center.
The Southeast Regional Office ("SERO") has worked with the Maimi and Atlanta mass transit authorities to provide Spanish language information about telemarketing fraud to appropriate LEP audiences. SERO is also developing a partnership with public schools in South Florida to provide consumer education with a focus on the Hispanic population.
PLANS FOR FUTURE EFFORTS
The FTC will continue its current policy of extensive outreach to LEP individuals, and will continue to receive and act on complaints from such individuals. Because the FTC is primarily a law enforcement agency, and resources are limited, additional LEP concerns will be addressed on a case-by-case basis when specific needs arise. The number or proportion of LEP individuals with which the FTC comes into contact depends on trends in law enforcement and consumer fraud.
In some instances, specific immigrant groups have been targeted by unscrupulous businesses because of their immigrant status and linguistic isolation. The FTC has been able to assess such trends through close contact with organizations representing LEP individuals. Nationally and regionally, the FTC has taken an active approach through aggressive outreach activities to warn members of LEP communities of consumer fraud, such as presentations at conventions and community centers, contacts with ethnic-based media, and translations of consumer education materials. In addition, the FTC has aggressively investigated and prosecuted those who have preyed on these communities. The FTC and its regional offices have done this with the aid of LEP representative groups and other domestic and foreign government agencies.
The FTC's regional offices have the most contact with LEP individuals and frequency of contact depends on the particular region. For example, the most active regional offices on this front have been in areas with large immigrant populations, such as the Western (San Francisco and Los Angeles), Southwest (Dallas) and Northeast (New York) regional offices. Because the FTC is a law enforcement agency, determining the frequency of LEP contacts differs from the situation of a social service agency, which may directly deliver services to a particular, well-identified, population. The FTC takes active steps to educate consumers about law enforcement actions and their legal rights. The FTC will continue these activities with our regional offices taking the lead because those offices are able more effectively to direct LEP efforts toward the needs of consumers.
Some of our translations are vital in terms of protecting consumer and legal rights. Due to cost, the size of the FTC, and our limited resources, the FTC cannot translate all of its publications. However, for instances of consumer fraud affecting specific communities, we will continue to work with LEP representative groups to provide publications in the communities' native languages.
Since the FTC is a small independent agency with limited resources and very broad enforcement responsibilities,(1) cost will play a significant role in determining what additional LEP activities to pursue. FTC offices will continue to work closely with stakeholders, consumer and other advocacy groups. The statements by stakeholders stressing the importance of establishing and maintaining close contact with community organizations and ethnic media validate an already established FTC practice. The FTC has developed very productive working relationships with various national organizations, such as LaRaza and similar local organizations on the regional level. The FTC also does a significant amount of outreach to LEP individuals through ethnic newspapers, magazines, and television broadcasts, and will continue this policy. FTC staff will continue to maintain close contact with community organizations to ensure that the agency learns of any emerging trends in consumer fraud affecting immigrant and other LEP populations. Also, we anticipate that these organizations will continue to allow the FTC to participate in their conventions. Of necessity, the FTC will continue to avail itself of offers by such groups to translate some of our publications or to review translations by the FTC staff and contractors.
The FTC engages in a significant number of activities that should be of assistance to LEP individuals. These activities are an integral part of the Commission's enforcement missions. In the coming year, the FTC staff will be evaluating existing LEP outreach activities and considering how to be more effective in communicating with LEP individuals, within the strictures of the budget and our enforcement responsibilities. In particular, as the Internet increasingly becomes a preferred communications mode, we will be reviewing the ease of access to FTC information through the Commission's website, ftc.gov. One area of consideration will be building on the foreign language publications now available through the FTC website by providing electronic consumer complaint forms in languages other than English.
We would be pleased to discuss the FTC's LEP activities with interested parties, who may contact Steve Vieux, 202 326-2306, email@example.com for further information.
Rosemarie A. Straight