Offshoring Comes Under Bipartisan Attack in Congress

Four U.S. lawmakers -- three Democrats and one Republican -- have teamed up to attack call center outsourcing by introducing a bill that would penalize any company that moves a call center overseas.

The bill would make any company that moves a call center offshore ineligible for any federal grants or loans. It would require the U.S. Labor Department to maintain a list of employers who relocate a call center overseas and force companies to provide at least 120 days' notice before doing so.

It would also require a call center worker to disclose his or hers location at the beginning of the call, if the caller request it.

The U.S. Call Center and Consumer Protection Act (HR 3596), was introduced by U.S. Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-N.Y.) and announced at news conference that included representatives of the Communication Workers of America. The measure's co-sponsors include David McKinley (R-W.V.), Gene Green (D-Texas), and Michael Michaud (D-Maine).

"Outsourcing, in my view, is one of the scourges of our economy, and one of the reasons we are struggling so to knock down the unemployment rate," said Bishop. He said there are 4.7 million call center employees today, while in 2006 there were 5.3 million.

In August, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that broadband deployments are boosting call center industry employment. He claimed that an average of 4,000 call center jobs are being created each month.

Alpine Access, a Denver-based call center provider with a work-from-home business model, has 5,000 agents working in 41 states and said it has added 1,000 since August. It also has agents in Canada, who serve that market.

Christopher Carrington, president and CEO of Alpine, said that 70% of his company's growth over the past three years is the result of companies moving call center work back to the U.S. "There is definitely a trend of jobs returning [from] offshore back to onshore," said Carrington. "In reality, without legislation the momentum of the market is already leaning that way."

Carrington said the move of call center jobs back to the U.S. is largely being driven by consumers.

"The American consumer has become increasingly frustrated with their confidential information being handled outside the United States, and with the difficulty of some phone calls that are handled internationally," said Carrington, who believes consumers are taking their business to companies that are able to serve them domestically. "You can legislate things, but at end of the day the consumer is the real decision maker as to how companies I think will create their own policies."

Carrington expects his company to be near $110 million in revenue this year and anticipates 50% growth next year.

Bills to discourage call center outsourcing have been tried before with little success. For instance, last year U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), pitched the idea of charging a 25-cent excise tax on any customer call that originates domestically but is transferred to an agent in a foreign location.

Frederik Cote, the president of Kunnect, a company that uses Amazon Web services to provide a cloud-based hosted call center, supports Bishop's legislation. Cote said that about 90% of his clients are in the U.S.

"A lot of people wrote off the call center industry many years ago," said Cote, adding, "I'm happy to see the call center business is a thriving business, it is still truly an American business.

"I'm happy to see that we're contemplating laws to protect that," said Cote.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing 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 pthibodeau@computerworld.com .

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