Gov. Sonny Perdue announced last week that he would be outsourcing state technology jobs in an attempt to save money. The plan is to turn over several technology-related functions to private companies and eliminate about 1,100 jobs.
As economic times get tougher in Georgia as they are all across America, you would think that a presumably astute politician like Perdue would want to avoid stories with the headline the Atlanta newspaper put on its report of his plan: "State outsourcing tech jobs, cutting positions." The word "outsourcing" may be second only to the phrase "illegal immigration" in its ability to raise the anxiety of middle-class Americans feeling the squeeze of the modern economy, where new technology combined with an expanding pool of available workers has been putting downward pressure on wages.
In addition to its similar economic implications, outsourcing has much of the same racial symbolism as immigration. Americans have more and more experience with making calls to businesses like airlines, financial institutions and help lines for technology, and realizing immediately that they aren't talking to someone in New Jersey or California, but likely to a worker in New Delhi or Calcutta. Many Americans resent even the slightest inconvenience that might come from trying to communicate with someone other than an American, as well as the specter of people in a different country taking jobs that they believe could have gone to an American worker.
What makes the anxiety over outsourcing so different from the economic anxieties of downturns past is that it is felt most acutely by middle-class Americans who have the education and job skills to work in white-collar jobs, rather than just blue-collar workers in manufacturing and service positions. With Internet access and e-mail now as commonplace as telephones and faxes were a decade or two ago, there is no logistical problem preventing companies and governments from hiring people on the other side of the planet if workers there will take less money for the same job. Outsourcing has come to technology services and computer programming, accounting and other white-collar professions. Even doctors are not immune.
One of the fastest-growing outsourcing trends is sending the results of x-rays and CAT scans to be read by radiologists in other countries. If anything, blue-collar workers are less likely to see their positions outsourced, because many of those jobs by their nature must remain in the United States.
All of which makes you wonder why Perdue chose to have a press conference to announce a big push to outsource state jobs and lay off workers. It must not have been because of an urgent need to save money - his predecessor, Gov. Roy Barnes, left behind a plan five years ago to do essentially the same thing, and Perdue kept it on the shelf until last week's press conference.
More than one business lobbyist was in attendance at the announcement, which certainly means that someone with a profit motive has been pushing it. With the outsourcing contract priced at $617 million, there is plenty of incentive for businesses that provide those services to put on a full-court press to get a deal done, and they have no doubt been plying the ground at the Capitol with big campaign dollars to get what they want.
With Perdue's re-election as governor behind him, you would think that businesses pushing for big state contracts would have limited leverage, since he's no longer under the gun to raise $20 million to win a second term. He apparently still has ambitions that require big political bucks from the money guys with interests at the Gold Dome. His former chief of staff, John Watson, has been pushing to lobbyists an invitation to a fundraiser for PerduePAC, with tickets priced as high as $25,000. According to Watson, Perdue, however, plans to use the funds to support his "political activities" and to hand out campaign contributions to political candidates not only in Georgia but across the country. President Bush has just appointed Perdue to a national trade advisory board.
So it appears that Perdue is plotting to get himself onto the Republican national ticket, either next year or in 2012. We'll see if controversies about land deals, backroom legislative bargaining for a break on his personal state tax bill and blocking the protection of a state nature preserve to make money on a secret property buy next door are enough to knock him out of contention.
Perdue obviously doesn't think so, so he's still raising big money from people with interests before his administration to fund his ambition. Unfortunately for us taxpayers, it means we don't get four years of a governor who's not financially beholden to the special interests at the Capitol.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.