The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) this week suspended its funding of a program to train call center workers in the Philippines.
In response to concerns raised last week by U.S. Reps. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.), USAID has suspended its participation in a Philippines-based program that provides English language instruction to prepare workers for employment in business process outsourcing and other industries.
Bishop and Jones wrote a letter to USAID on April 19 expressing outrage at the program, known as Philippines Growth with Equity in Mindanao, and urging its immediate suspension. In recent years, the Philippines has grown in prominence as an outsourcing destination for white-collar jobs, including call center positions, that require English language skills.
Funding overseas call centers that compete with U.S. operations "is short-sighted public policy and a direct threat to our economic competitiveness,” the congressmen wrote in the letter.
In a printed response to Bishop and Jones dated April 21, USAID wrote: "In response to the concerns you have raised, the agency is suspending its participation in the English language training program in Mindanao pending further review of the facts. Furthermore, the agency has established a high-level task force to review these matters."
"Regardless how well intentioned, this program has the potential to harm the US economy and must be stopped. I will closely monitor USAID's response to ensure that America's international economic development efforts in no way contribute to shipping our jobs overseas," Bishop said following USAID's action. "We do not need a task force to tell us that outsourcing is a job killer and American taxpayers should not be supporting it in any fashion."
Bishop in December introduced legislation in the U.S. Congress that would essentially make U.S. firms that outsource contact center jobs overseas ineligible for federal grants, loans, and tax credits for up to five years. The legislation, called the U.S. Call Center and Consumer Protection Act (HR 3596), would also require overseas call center employees to disclose their location to U.S. consumers and give customers the right to be transferred to a U.S.-based call center upon request. It would further require companies to notify the U.S. Department of Labor 120 days prior to any proposed moves off-shore and require the list of companies that off-shore call center work to be made available to the public. It now has the bipartisan support of more than 100 federal lawmakers, and similar measures have begun to appear in several state capitals in the past few weeks.
That legislation, and the activity surrounding USAID's funding of the Filipino program, have drawn the support of the Communications Workers of America, a labor union representing more than 700,000 people, including about 150,000 contact center employees. "We commend Representatives Bishop and Jones on their efforts to call attention to this program and to ensure that taxpayer money is used to strengthen the American workforce above all," said CWA Legislative Director Shane Larson. "Representing 150,000 customer service professionals gives us the responsibility to assure they go to work every day on a level playing field."