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Corruption Chronicles

U.S. Spends $10 Mil To Train Asian Call Center Workers

While President Obama calls on companies to insource overseas jobs back to the U.S., the federal government is spending millions of dollars to help foreigners learn enough English to work in offshore call centers for American businesses.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is blowing $10 million to train Filipinos to work in Asian call centers that serve the very U.S. businesses the president threatened to strip of tax deductions for moving jobs and profits abroad. In fact, in hisState of the Union address earlier this year, Obama said “it is time to stop rewarding businesses that ship job overseas.”

Ironically, his administration is contributing to the problem. A news magazine that covers information technology broke the story last week and it has ignited bipartisan outrage among federal lawmakers. So far two congressmen—one Democrat, one Republican—have demanded that the federally-funded call-center training program be immediately suspended. They cite a similar USAID project in Sri Lanka that was abandoned in 2010 at their behest.

This latest project is training 3,000 Philippine students to man the phones in areas ranging from healthcare to travel, for domestic call centers from Asia. It’s called Job Enabling English Proficiency (JEEP) and graduates get placed with outsourcing vendors that provide U.S. companies with profitable offshore perks, including Asia’s cheap labor costs. The U.S. program includes 400 hours of training over two years and 23,000 students are currently enrolled in the Philippines.

One of the congressmen demanding that the Philippine JEEP be nixed, New York Democrat Tim Bishop, notes that over 4.5 million Americans work in call centers but more than half a million jobs have been outsourced from the U.S. to foreign nations. “I support the international development mission of USAID but my top priority is protecting American jobs and American taxpayers,” Bishop said. “I anticipate working closely with USAID in a bipartisan manner to ensure that none of its programs overseas will hurt workers here at home.”

Bishop and North Carolina Republican Walter Jones co-authored a letter to Obama’s handpicked USAID Administrator, Rajiv Shah, calling for JEEP’s end. “We cannot support the use of federal taxpayer dollars for outsourcing training programs that conflict directly with the Administration’s stated policy of repatriating American jobs from overseas and we demand that this ill-advised project be discontinued immediately.”

Both have threatened to use every legislative option available to permanently prohibit USAID from engaging in such practices in the future. Actively funding the training of foreign workers for call center jobs outsourced by American companies is “extraordinarily distressing” given the fragile state of the recovering American labor force,” the congressmen write.


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