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Mounting layoffs fire up offshoring debate

Posted: 25 Mar 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:U.S. offshoring? lay off downturn? outsource job?

White House under pressure
Meanwhile, foes of offshoring have derided the Obama administration for some of its early cabinet and White House appointments, as well as for its high-profile meetings with some of the tech executives accused of shipping jobs overseas. One object of scorn was the president's second pick for Commerce secretary, Sen. Judd Gregg, a vocal proponent of the H-1B high-tech visa program. But Gregg withdrew his nomination last month, and Obama's third choice for the Commerce post, former Washington state Governor Gary Locke, is considered an improvement by some of Gregg's detractors.

Among those who have been highly critical of the Obama administration is Ron Hira, an assistant professor of public policy at Rochester Institute of Technology and co-author of Outsourcing America: The True Cost of Shipping Jobs Overseas and What Can Be Done about It. "American workers have no real representation in Washington," Hira wrote in a February column for EE Times. "While unions like Alliance@IBM are doing yeoman's work on labor issues, it's simply not enough; their ranks, and therefore their resources, are too small.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment on Hira's criticism of its jobs policy, but President Obama did pledge in his Feb. 24 address to a joint session of Congress to "restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas."

Green route
The administration has also argued that it wants to stem the tide of engineering and other layoffs by creating green-sector jobs. New Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, a former House member representing California, was the chief sponsor of 2007's Green Jobs Act, which authorizes up to $125 million in spending to establish national and state job training programsadministered by the Labor Departmentto address job shortages. Work would focus on creating and designing energy-efficient buildings and other construction, renewable electric power, energy-efficient vehicles and biofuels.

Engineering groups have said an uptick in green jobs could be the best way to overcome layoffs in other industry sectors.

Indeed, said Day, "domestic sourcing" could gain momentum through infrastructure projects to extend broadband networks to rural areas and through the Energy Department's "smart grid" initiative, which proposes to rebuild the outmoded U.S. electrical power grid. "IT companies are trying to make a business out of domestic sourcing," said IEEE-USA's Day.

While the administration has thus far been largely silent on the outsourcing issue, the $787 billion economic stimulus package that the president signed into law in January clearly seeks to create cleantech and other jobs that would employ engineers.

Backing that approach are Democratic leaders in Congress who want to promote broadband technology to support, for instance, interoperable health-care IT networks. The idea is to create jobs by modernizing infrastructurewhether for reducing the cost of health care or for pushing broadband connectivity to rural areas.

"It's important that we look for those 'twofers,' " Rep. Bart Gordon, chairman of the House Science Committee, said during a December briefing on his committee's agenda for 2009.

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