IBM stops disclosing U.S. headcount data

Despite U.S. layoffs last year, IBM global headcount grows slightly

IBM says it is the No. 1 technology employer in the U.S. and the world, but as time moves on it may be harder to tell just what is happening to its domestic workforce.

IBM has stopped providing breakouts of the number of employees it has in the U.S., and in doing so is closing a door to data that provided insights into this bellwether company's employment shift. Over the years, IBM workforce data showed accelerating overseas employee hiring, especially in India, and a steadily declining U.S. workforce.

In its most recently released annual report, the company only provides its global headcount. Overall, IBM finished 2009 with 399,409 employees worldwide, up .2% or just short of 1,000 from 2008.

IBM's U.S. workforce, according to the latest data from last fall, which appeared in congressional testimony, is 105,000. In 2007, IBM employed 121,000 in the U.S.

The Alliance@IBM/CWA Local 1701, which has been trying to win bargaining rights for employees has estimated that the company laid off about 10,000 U.S. workers last year and IBM recently conducted another layoff , that the Alliance says has reached about 2,900.

Asked about the change in the annual report, an IBM spokesman responded in a note, that "our competitors report headcount globally. Going forward we will report it globally."

It is true that many high-tech firms only disclose aggregate headcount data, but some go a little further. Microsoft , for instance, reported that as of June last year it employed approximately 93,000 -- 56,000 in the U.S. and 37,000 internationally. In 2008, it reported 91,000 workers, 55,000 in the U.S. and 36,000 internationally.

Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said the workforce data is critical for policymakers in understanding the dynamics of offshoring. "By hiding its offshoring, IBM is doing a disservice to America -- through omission the company is providing misleading labor market signals and information to policy makers," Hira said.

IBM is trying to convince the government to provide the funds and policies to promote more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates in the US as well as increase the H-1B cap, said Hira. "Yet at the same time IBM is actually decreasing its demand of that same labor," he said.

Hira said he believes that Congress should ask firms to disclose their offshoring. "With better information and transparency we'd all be better off -- workers would understand where there are opportunities (and where they are not), taxpayers would understand where their tax dollars are flowing (especially stimulus dollars), and policymakers could better respond to offshoring," he said.

Hira also argues that the shift overseas also makes clear how critical the tax deferral on foreign profits is to IBM's bottom line and why they are opposing President Barack Obama's "proposal to end the tax breaks that encourage firms to move American jobs overseas," he said.

IBM was one of a long list of companies opposing the tax deferral rules in a letter to congressional leaders last year. The letter argued that repeal of the deferral "will result in a loss of jobs for Americans and serious negative impacts on the U.S. economy."

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld . Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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