Government Aid and Offshoring: Should Strings Be Attached?

Ann All

With all of the money going toward "stimulus" and bailouts of big corporations, and the financial markets still in a disarray that some experts say shows no real signs of abating (despite the bump in stock prices over the past week or so), it's safe to say that many U.S. taxpayers are mad. But where do we direct our anger?


In bad economic times, outsourcing has always been a convenient scapegoat. That hasn't changed. Just last week, IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson wrote about her ire that JP Morgan Chase, the recipient of some $25 billion in bailout money, was planning to increase the amount of IT work it sends offshore to India in an effort to save money for its shareholders. And it's not the only one. As I wrote last week, banks are unlikely to give up stakes in their captive operations in India and will probably even increase them, thanks in part to all of the costly and complicated integration work resulting from quickie mergers like that of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch.


So, should strings be attached when companies take U.S. taxpayer money? When companies accept money from state or local governments as an incentive to locate their facilities in a certain geography, they typically agree to provide a specified number of jobs within a specified time frame, much as IBM did when accepting $53 million in incentives from the state of Iowa in exchange for opening a technology serivces hub in Dubuque.


The no-strings-attached approach that has prevailed with federal aid thus far has resulted in outrages such as insurer AIG Group using $165 million of its $170 billion in government aid money to pay retention bonuses to some of the same folks responsible for practically running the company into the ground by making what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called "unconscionable bets." AIG insists it has to honor bonus clauses in employment contracts signed before the bailout. (Oh, really? Why? And I, for one, would like to see the dates on those contracts. And I think the federal government should demand to do so, if it hasn't already.) Let's not forget, AIG also spent some $400,000 of aid money on corporate retreats that were no doubt necessary to soothe the frayed nerves of its executives.


"According to a survey by and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School published last spring, offshoring at least some IT operations results in annual savings of $20,000 per head for most companies..."

Ann All

To add insult to injury, AIG used more than $90 billion of the aid to pay off some of the banks to cover their questionable investments in financial instruments that even those of us who aren't MBAs could have predicted were going to collapse. (Though no one seems to have foreseen the spectacular scale of the ensuing financial damage.) And guess what, many of the banks had already accepted government aid of the own. Here I'll resuscitate a phrase from my last gig, during which I spent a lot of time writing about ATMs: the "double-dip," used to describe the result when your bank charged you a fee for accessing your funds at an ATM not in its network, despite the fact that it also collected a fee from the network owner. That looks like incredibly small potatoes compared to the double-dips we are seeing now.

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