by Beth Bacheldor

Outsourcing vs. Diplomacy Could Be An Uneasy Balance

Nov 25, 2009
IT Leadership

President Obama wants to strengthen ties with India. How will he do that and deal with offshoring and H-1B Visas?

For a nanosecond, I thought I’d blog about Playboy’s deal to outsource all but its editorial functions to American Media. Nah. The story has gained enough traction in the media to pull Santa’s sleigh around the world three times. Besides, there’s not really an IT angle there.

Instead, I thought I’d serve up a pointer to a great story by ComputerWorld’s Patrick Thibodeau. The story focuses on who attended a U.S. State Department lunch Nov. 24 for India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. Singh, along with many other luminaries, were in town for President Obama’s first state dinner of his administration held that evening on the White House South Lawn.

So, who attended the luncheon? Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group, the parent of IT consultancy group Tata Consultancy Services, was seated at the head table, as was Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, whose state was picked by Tata Consultancy Services for its North American Delivery Center in Milford. Thibodeau reports in his story that Ohio offered about $19 million tax credits and other incentives to get Tata and, as of this month, 225 Ohioans work at the facility, according to the governor’s office.

What wasn’t there, apparently, was any real commentary from Obama about offshoring. Instead the President noted how “India will play a pivotal role in meeting the major challenges we face today. And this includes my top economic priority, creating good jobs with good wages for the American people,” he said.

Thibodeau’s story does include commentary from Thomas Friedman, a columnist at The New York Times and author of “The World is Flat.” Friedman attended the luncheon as well, and he criticized the White House for its silence so far on offshoring as well as the H-1B and L-1 programs.

Singh was the guest of honor at Obama’s first state dinner, specifically because Obama wants to build stronger ties with the world’s largest democracy. I applaud that. But it may take some kid gloves as that building gets done. That’s because Indian workers hold the most H-1B Visas and India is home to some of the world’s top outsourcing companies—and because, if Obama sticks to his pledge to stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, which he made when he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in September 2008, there is a bit of dichotomy with which Obama will have to deal.

Finding a resolution to that dichotomy won’t be easy. Work Visas, immigration, and offshoring are some of the thorniest topics around these days, given the number of jobs lost and the financial stress in the U.S. economy. How do you think Obama should go about strengthening our diplomatic ties with India while strengthening our workforce?