Outsourcing: What Romney and Obama don't discuss

No one wants a real discussion on offshore outsourcing. Not President Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney and not the Brookings Institution.

It’s really not clear just what the Brookings Institution report this week on the geography of H-1B visa contributed to the debate.

The report makes a case that H-1B visa use is geographically disbursed, and that there are companies doing innovative work and struggling, as well, to find high caliber talent.  

But the real point of the Brookings report was revealed in a National Journal op-ed this week by the report’s authors, who use their findings to send up a warning about the efforts of Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to seek tighter restrictions on H-1B visa use.

In the journal piece, Brookings researchers, Neil G. Ruiz and Shyamali Choudhury, conclude, “… with this tightened regulation, they may be making it harder for employers in their states to obtain the skilled workers needed to develop leading innovations.”

Right. Ok. We got it. Brookings has released a standard-issue, inside-the-beltway report with a tactical legislative goal.

In releasing this report, Brookings assembled a panel discussion to talk broadly about the issue. One panelist Jared Bernstein, who until last year was a member of President Barack Obama's economic team, framed an essential question about the visa as it pertains to offshoring.

Bernstein says he is comfortable with offshore outsourcing, but he wants to know is whether the visa policy is incentivizing it.

Joining Bernstein on the stage was Vivek Wadhwa, vice president of academics and innovation at Singularity University, but is better known for his writing and his research on labor force issues. Wadhwa has problems with the operation of the H-1B visa, but sees liberal visa policies as essential to innovation. 

But at this panel, Wadhwa managed to categorized people who raise questions about H-1B visa policy as xenophobes; he belittled academics who study this issue, and delivered a crude attack against one of the leading researchers on this issue, Ron Hira at the Rochester Institute of Technology. It was an embarrassment.  See the tape. But easier still: here's the transcript

This is the state of the debate today on offshore outsourcing. Except in a few small circles, there is no interest in a thoughtful examination of the question posed by Bernstein.

Romney’s critics are too interested in playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and producing evidence that he supported offshoring while at Bain.  Of course Romney supports offshore outsourcing.

A more important question is whether Romney believes that the U.S. should facilitate and encourage more offshore outsourcing through visa policies.

The same question applies to Obama. The Democrats have shifted debate to permanent residency for STEM graduates, something that has strong bipartisan support.

Romney and Obama are not asked about the H-1B visas and have no cause to address it.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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