by Beth Bacheldor

IBM’s Hidden U.S. Headcount Also Hides Its Offshoring Initiatives

Mar 15, 2010
IT Leadership

In an apparent change of heart, IBM is no longer breaking out the number of U.S. employees it has.

Plenty has been said already about IBM’s shift in how it reports its employee headcount. In its most recent annual report, which you can see here, IBM provides only a global headcount of 399,409 employees instead of providing in specifics on the number of employees it has in the U.S.

For the most part, the talk has been critical. That’s not surprising. Most people don’t like it when companies keep secrets, even those secrets they are legally able to keep. For its part, IBM reportedly has said it’s only doing what most of its competitors already do.

For a great breakdown of IBM’s change of heart, read this story by Computerworld’s Patrick Thibodeau.

What I found particularly interesting is the commentary from Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Hira charges that IBM is hiding its offshoring, and in doing so is hiding workforce data that policymakers need to better understand how offshoring affects the U.S. market.

Moreover, Hira points out, IBM’s less-than-full disclosure seems to be in keeping with its opposition to President Barack Obama’s proposal to change the tax deferral rules, which could outlaw or restrict billions in tax breaks U.S. companies who offshore. (IBM isn’t the only company opposing these changes; others include Microsoft and Symantec.)

IBM’s shift to providing only global employee counts comes in an annual report that’s written about a year in which IBM apparently dropped some 10,000 U.S. workers. The annual report doesn’t necessarily reflect that number, however. The 10K layoff number is an estimate from the Alliance@IBM/CWA Local 1701, a worker union bargaining for employee rights. The annual report states that IBM finished up with more employees by 0.2%, or just short of 1,000, from 2008. Hmmm…

I get that IBM doesn’t legally have to break out its employee headcounts by region for you, or me, or shareholders, or anyone. But it has in the past. The shift seems a little odd at best. Really, why be so tightlipped IBM? It’s a simple HR task to break out the U.S. numbers. My guess is you’d rather the American public not know how many U.S. jobs may have been lost to offshoring.

What do you think, readers? Is this business as usual, a shady move, or perfectly legit?