EDITOR'S DESK: Fear of outsourcing

Thomas R. Temin

One of the funnier political jokes, as reprinted in the New York Times recently, followed President Bush's trip to India. Conan O'Brien, as in 'Late Night With,' quipped, 'President Bush arrived in India'and he was greeted by over 10,000 angry protesters. As a result, most Americans spent all day on hold with computer problems.'

Also widely reported was that Bush wouldn't take the political risk of visiting an Indian company to which U.S. companies outsource work, even while asserting that outsourcing is good for the U.S. economy.

You usually hear that when foreign workers are on the job, you wait all day for service. This joke expressed the opposite, showing how dependent we have become on foreign contractors.

Outsourcing is high on both private industry's and government's lists of concerns. No credible economic or social argument can be made against outsourcing. Criticism often is barely disguised xenophobia. The difference in service doesn't depend on who's doing the work, but on who specifies and oversees it.

I've experienced terrible service from people clearly speaking from 10 time zones away. I've also gotten great service. And let's be honest: Is the service provided by Americans in America always so great? You ever fly on an airline? The Washington Metro, which operates the capital's subways and buses, outsourced transportation services for the handicapped to local contractors. The result was a horrible scandal, with elderly and blind people left stranded for hours on freezing sidewalks.

Agencies thinking of outsourcing functions need to stay focused on the goal, and not on the emotional cloud surrounding outsourcing. As agencies move toward the Lines of Business model mandated by the Office of Management and Budget, this is especially true.

The question isn't whether work is done in Bangor or Bangalore. It's making sure the service-level agreements and contractor due diligence are done properly so you'll get the service levels you want, then remembering to monitor performance and being ready to pounce if it isn't up to snuff.

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