RealTime IT News

Offshore Sandbagging

The Bush administration is refusing to release a report about the impact of outsourcing and offshoring on the U.S. IT and semiconductor industries.

Instead, the Commerce Department is releasing a 12-page synopsis of the report mandated by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2004 as a sop to the weak-kneed on free trade.

The Democrats want the full report, hinting the administration is hiding something and all is not as cheery as the synopsis implies. The Republicans, for reasons that will become readily apparent, say it wouldn't be worth the effort to fight the administration.

"It is difficult for me to understand how this committee can seriously talk about bolstering America's global competitive position if, in the next breath, we claim not to want the most sophisticated analysis done by the federal government on what is happening with American jobs in high-tech fields," Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) said Wednesday.

Gordon and his fellow Democrats then introduced a resolution to the House Science Committee to require Commerce to turn over the report. It was defeated.

"The release of this report not only wouldn't help us take action on outsouring, it wouldn't even help us learn more about outsourcing," House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) said.

"Everyone involved in preparing the report agrees that data on outsourcing was hard to come by, given the resources and time that were available to prepare the report."

Boehlert has it right. After two years and, reportedly, $330,000 later, Commerce doesn't have a clue about either outsourcing or offshoring.

In effect, the report is worthless, yet another fine example of your taxpayer dollars at work.

Consider, for instance, this caveat in the synopsis: "It was not possible to accurately determine the actual number of workers or jobs moving from one country to another based on available employment, trade and industry data."

Or this one: "Currently collected government data can offer only very limited insight into the extent and impact of workforce globalization."

And finally this statement: "The lack of detailed domestic and international data on workforce, industry and trade prevents a strong quantitative assessment of the full extent of global sourcing of IT services and software work."

Nevertheless, "absent [an] ability to perform detailed empirical estimation" Commerce concluded, "The globalization of the workforce actually offers many opportunities for U.S firms and workers."

The synopsis does concede the U.S. IT industry has experienced a decline in job growth since the 1990's but, "It is not clear what impact offshoring has had on the industry."

To Commerce, nothing is clear about this issue. You'll be glad to know, though, your government is working on it.

"New approaches to data collection could enable a better understanding of the effects of workforce globalization on an industry, worker displacement, national productivity and economic growth," the synopsis states.

"The Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor statistics are seeking ways to create better, quantifiable measures to understand these trends."

Democrats, though, see offshoring and outsourcing as issues to hang around the Republicans' neck in the upcoming elections, a fact noted by an irritated Boehlert.

"There's no policy at stake in the resolution before us today," he said Wednesday. "It has nothing to do with taking action in response to outsourcing. It's only about scoring political points related to a report.

"The release of that report wouldn't create a single new job, although its sponsors may hope the debate over it creates new jobs for some Democratic candidates."

But, Mr. Chairman, aren't we entitled to see what $330,000 bought us?

"Well, maybe we could raise questions about the judgment of the people who headed up the Technology Administration and oversaw the report," Boehlert said. "But guess what? None of those people are still in the government. There is nothing at stake in reviewing their actions."

O.K., Mr. Chairman, we don't gain anything by seeking the report, but what the heck? Why not just ask for it anyway?

"That's a fair question. And if we were just going to ask for the report and be done with it, I might not object," the chairman stated. "But this is a politically motivated request and it's going to stop with seeking this document."

According to Boehlert, based on letters the Democrats have already sent to Commerce about the report, this "is just the beginning of a prolonged fishing expedition that will raise all sorts of disputes related to Congressional access to Executive Branch deliberations."

So, let's sort this out.

Congress orders a report on the impact of outsourcing and offshoring on the IT industry. Two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, the Commerce Department claims it did the report, but only releases only a synopsis larded with caveats and clichés. The authors leave the government.

The Democrats want a copy of that report they claim is the "most sophisticated analysis" done yet on outsourcing and offshoring. The Republicans ask what's the point? It's a worthless report.

Gee, can you tell it's an election year?