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State Departments Import Indians for Tech Jobs

April 27, 2005
By: Neha Bhagat and Ben Welsh
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Contractors for two of the largest departments in Missouri government have imported foreign nationals to write computer programs for the state.

Officials at the departments of Social Services and Revenue confirm that they have contracted for software support with private companies that, in turn, have hired programmers from India.

However, those same officials say they do not have precise knowledge about the background of the employees and managers for the firms have refused repeated requests for detailed information.

"We can't question them on that," said Steve Adams, technology director at the Social Services Department. "We say here's the job and here's what we want to have done. As far as who they bring in, we don't have that information."

The Social Services Department has a software development contract with Tier Technologies to develop a program for Medicaid administration, according to a department spokeswoman.

David Johnston, who handles contracts for Tier Technologies in Jefferson City, initially confirmed that two Indian workers had been brought to the capital last year to work on the project but refused to elaborate.

"It's very political," Johnston said.

Officials at Tier refused to discuss the matter.

"We discussed this internally and decided not to pursue the matter," said Matt Brusch, communications officer for the California-based firm.

The Revenue Department has a software-development contract with Rose International, according to a department spokeswoman. Rose International's Web site reports it has offices in both the U.S. and India.

Revenue Spokeswoman Maura Browning, said they also did not track the origin of workers provided by contractors but Mike Henley, an accounts manager at Rose International, a company that handles contracts for the Revenue Department, said "many" Indian workers were employed by their company.

Unlike those employed directly by the state, Missouri does not maintain records of those hired by private state contractors.

The practice quickly drew fire from a top state labor leader, who vowed he was going to begin lobbying state officials to stop the outsourcing.

"It's immoral," said Hugh McVey, president of Missouri's branch of AFL-CIO. "It would be in Gov. Blunt's best interest to make it stop. It should be stopped. It should be stopped today."

Gov. Matt Blunt's chief spokesman, Spence Jackson, said the governor's office was not aware of the contractor outsourcing, while a high placed official at the state's central administration office, which handles state contractors, expressed disinterest.

"If a company uses legal immigrants from a country, so what? They're allowed to do that," said Henry Herschel, who works in the commissioner's office at the Office of Administration.

The issue of using Indian workers for state government arose during last year's gubernatorial campaign when it was reported that an Indian-based call center was being used to respond to calls about Missouri food stamp eligibility.

The company was operated by the company E-Funds under a contract with the Social Services Department.

The administration of Gov. Bob Holden had the call center moved from India at a greater cost to the state after the Indian operation was criticized by State Auditor Clair McCaskill, who was campaigning against Holden for the Democratic nomination for governor.

In reaction to that flap, legislators from both sides of the aisle have filed measures to restrict foreign employment for government jobs.

Bills filed earlier this year by Rep. Belinda Harris, D-Hillboro, and Rep.Jerry Nolte, R-Gladstone, would outlaw hiring foreign workers.

Nolte's bill would require all state service contractors be citizens of the United States.

"You can sell out America to other countries and pretty soon you don't have service workers," Harris said. "When we keep sending things to other countries to do our services, we are losing our control."

But not all members of the General Assembly agree.

"They could be subcontracted in Illinois, Kansas or the West Coast. It doesn't make a difference," said Ed Robb, R-Columbia. "I'm sure that the computer programmers buy water and food here. They're spending money in Missouri."

Foreign outsourcing of state work follows a pattern seen all across the country where private companies are sending overseas in an effort to save costs.

Honchi Shi, graduate director of the University of Missouri's Computer Science Department, said his field was becoming increasingly dominated by foreigners.

"Out of 100 Computer Science graduate students at the University of Missouri, nearly 3/4 are from India, China and Middle East," Shi said.