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IT questions Obama's IT stimulus

Don't Buy American

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Oh, the Irony

The are a number of different ironies in this statement. How many IT people have been out of work for the past decade as IT industry players pumped up their imports of workers using H-1B visas or off-shored hardware or software development labs to Eastern Europe and Asia? An equally strong argument can be made that there isn't an IT skills shortage in America so much as a shortage of companies willing to pay a living wage and to provide training to existing IT employees to learn the new skills that will be required to build modern applications.

To be fair, there are plenty of lazy bastards in IT departments who have rusty skills and who have learned to keep their heads down and not make a lot of noise as they collect their paychecks. But you can't blame the government for the IT skills issue, and you can't expect the government to fix it. Bill Gates could fix it in a heartbeat. This might work: Bill G decides to take a few billion of the Gates Foundation bucks and create free scholarships to comp-sci majors who go to state schools, and IT suppliers agree to guarantee jobs to students who make decent grades. If that sounds too pricey, how about no-interest loans instead of tuition grants? Make people pay the money back to the Foundation. They'll gladly do it.

While complaining about the IT skills shortage, Thibodeaux didn't offer any practical advice on how the Obama stimulus package might address the issue.

CompTIA suggested that Congress and the Obama administration make it easier for value-added resellers, many of whom are relatively small companies, to get in on the IT parts of the proposed spending bill. "Small businesses lack the time and resources to navigate these complexities - a task made all the more difficult due to the tough economy," said Thibodeaux. "We hope that this will be taken into account as contracting and grant opportunities get ramped up. They should work for small companies, not act as added hurdles to their viability."

The IT lobby group is, as you might expect, particularly worried about the Buy American provisions, an effort to keep as much of the stimulus money circulating in the States as is practical. CompTIA is having none of that.

"We have long-held that 'Buy America' in most any of its forms imposes far greater costs than benefits on the free trade of goods and services across international borders. They run contrary to the manner in which the IT industry creates its offerings, the lion's share of which see development by small IT firms that use globally sourced components and services, and also access those growing international markets for sales. We believe that, though well-meaning, pernicious protectionism will result, ultimately shutting out U.S. companies from important foreign markets, and driving up costs for U.S. consumers. The 'Buy America' provisions should be stripped from the final package."

Given how much of IT hardware and software is created overseas - even if in many cases by companies that are technically headquartered in the United States - it is difficult to imagine how a Buy American provision would be implemented. And who is going to police it? That said, you can understand the desire to keep the dough from the stimulus package circulating on the home front as much as possible. ®

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