by Grant Gross

Training Key to Keeping IT Jobs in U.S.

Jan 15, 20044 mins
IT Leadership

Training Key to Keeping Jobs in U.S.

Science panel head says more funding needed

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Science Committee since 2001, has long advocated for technology training and education programs for U.S. workers. In an interview via e-mail, he says this is a key to U.S. workers remaining competitive in the global labor pool.

CIO: Corporate and labor leaders are worried that we’re in danger of losing our world leadership in technology innovation. What can Congress do about it?

Sherwood Boehlert: The government alone cannot guarantee U.S. competitiveness. But [it] should be investing in high-risk, high-reward basic science that the private sector often can’t justify. We put the National Science Foundation on a track to double its budget over five years, and we’ve just sent to the president a bill that authorizes $3.7 billion over four years for nanotechnology. [President Bush signed the bill Dec. 3.]

More foreign workers are getting advanced degrees in technology-related fields than U.S. workers. What do U.S. workers need to do to remain competitive?

Many other nations have become relatively more competitive, particularly with regard to the quality of their workforce. We have to run faster just to stay in place, and it’s not clear that we’ve been keeping pace.

Each of the R&D bills I authored during the last two years [including the Cyber Security Research and Development Act of 2002] contains provisions, including scholarships and graduate traineeships, to encourage American students to pursue degrees in technical fields. Some of these programs haven’t been funded as generously as I would like?and we’re working on that. But there’s no question that making a technical education more desirable is one of the keys to our competitiveness.

What do you think about the trend of U.S. companies sending tech jobs offshore?

I don’t like to see any jobs move offshore. We have to continue to invest across the board in our nation’s innovation capacity. That means support for science and technology education, for research and advanced technology development, and for technology-based regional economic development. That describes in a nutshell the agenda for my committee.

No Mandate for CIOs in Electronic Checking Law

Banks, not their customers, will shoulder new IT investments

Check 21, the banking modernization act signed into law in October, is going to make your CFO happier. By allowing banks to process checks electronically, valid checks will clear faster, and fraudulent or bounced checks will be discovered sooner. And it’s going to make you happy too. Congress, by choosing not to include incentives to adopt electronic payments, essentially guaranteed that paper checks will remain dominant for the foreseeable future. That means there’s no pressure for most CIOs to invest in new financial systems to pay bills online.

Banks will save money by eliminating check-handling costs and standardizing on an electronic check-processing infrastructure. Today, paper checks are flown cross-country from the depositor’s bank to the issuer’s, passing through couriers and clearinghouses along the way. A typical check is handled by as many as 20 people before it clears, says John Hall, spokesman for the American Bankers Association. Starting next Oct. 28, banks can scan paper checks and use the electronic document to clear each transaction.

According to a 2002 Federal Reserve report, the number of checks paid in the United States dropped by 7 billion from 1995 to 2000, while the number of electronic payments increased by 14.2 billion. Peter James, who covers corporate banking for the TowerGroup, says that consumers primarily account for this trend?most businesses still write checks. Because banks will save under the law, the checking fees banks charge corporate customers should decline. James says there’s no incentive for banks to push customers toward online payments as a cost-saving measure. The result: little or no change for IT.

-Ben Worthen