Following criticism, U.S. suspends foreign aid for outsourcing

USAID to review impact on jobs after complaint

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has "suspended" a plan to train people in Sri Lanka in outsourcing skills, and says it will review whether this training impacts U.S. jobs, says a lawmaker who opposed the program.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) said USAID's plan to provide about 3,000 Sri Lankans training in information technology, business process outsourcing and call center support was, in effect, "teaching foreign workers how to better take jobs from American workers."

The U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka announced this summer its plan to fund a program "to help fill workforce gaps in BPO and IT" in that country.

It said it was "teaming with leading BPO IT/English language training companies to establish professional IT and English skills development training centers in each of the five districts in the Northern Province."

The initial announcement said the agency would be training people in enterprise Java, but USAID said that was inadvertent. The agency said "the majority of prospective trainees lacked even basic experience with computers."

The U.S. is trying to stabilize with economic development a Sri Lankan region that has suffered under a nearly three decade long civil war. The war was settled last year. The U.S. is contributing about $10 million in training funds; private sector companies are also contributing money.

Bishop announced the program's suspension in a statement released on Thursday. USAID officials were not immediately available for comment, but Bishop's spokesman released a copy of the decision on the program.

USAID told Bishop that it "has suspended a job skills development project in Sri Lanka while we conduct a review to ensure the project will not take any jobs away from Americans."

"The project was already determined to comply with policy guidelines meant to ensure USAID's projects do not adversely affect US jobs, but we are revising these guidelines -- written in 2003 during the Bush Administration -- to ensure they are applicable to today's increasingly globalized economy," the agency said.

The agency also said that it "takes seriously our responsibility for the sound investment of taxpayer dollars and this review will help USAID continue the important work of helping create and support sustainable futures for the world's poorest people, while at the same time protecting American jobs."

Bishop said, "I am glad that USAID has finally seen the light. We need to be looking out for American jobs and American taxpayers and that means not one nickel of taxpayer money should support job-killing outsourcing."

If USAID's guidelines allow for outsourcing training, "then I think it's safe to say that these guidelines need a major revision," he said.

Bishop also said that, "if necessary," he is preparing bipartisan legislation to bar use of foreign aid for outsourcing training programs.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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