December 11, 2003
"Lawmakers eye ways to slow offshore outsourcing"
Increasingly, federal and state lawmakers are seeking to put the brakes on offshore outsourcing, mostly by setting restrictions on the use of foreign labor in government contracting.
There are at least nine bills pending in the U.S. House and Senate, and four states -- North Carolina, New Jersey, Michigan and Indiana -- are considering similar legislation, according to a study of pending bills assembled by Stuart Anderson, executive director of the recently formed National Foundation for American Policy. Anderson, a former Senate staffer on the Immigration subcommittee, called the growing number of offshore outsourcing-related bills "creeping protectionism."
Offshore outsourcing is becoming a hot topic in Washington as the 2004 presidential election looms. In a separate event today, a group of policy experts, lobbyists and labor leaders at a forum sponsored by the Information Policy Institute debated offshore outsourcing and approaches that could be used to create and preserve jobs.
Rolf Lundberg, a senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said legislation that seeks to impede offshore outsourcing "will undermine efforts to open new markets overseas" and invite "some form of response and retaliation" by foreign nations.
But Ron Blackwell, chief economist of the AFL-CIO, said outsourcing is an enormous issue for the U.S. The loss of some 2.5 million manufacturing jobs in the past several years alone is "historically unprecedented," he said. He faulted U.S. policy, which he said pursues trade agreements that ensure elaborate intellectual property protections but does nothing to advance human rights in countries that oppress their citizens.
Among the pending federal bills is one from Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) that would require employees at a help desk or support call center, when they either initiate or receive calls, to disclose their locations. Another bill, by Sens. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio), would prohibit contractors from performing work outside the U.S.
A bill by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) would require the U.S. Department of Defense to ensure that the goods it buys contain at least 65% U.S. content. Other pending bills in Congress seek to set restrictions on use of L-1 visas, which are used by companies to transfer their foreign workers into the U.S. Critics argue that the L-1 visa has become the main vehicle for moving jobs overseas.
Among the states now eyeing legislation, proposed bills would restrict government contracts to U.S. citizens as well as require call center workers to identify themselves.
Anderson argued that the bills could hurt U.S. consumers, because they would "stifle innovation and reduce the competitiveness of U.S. firms." Legislation to protect certain jobs, he said, also puts other jobs at risk.