Welch asks for study of outsourced government jobs

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(Host) Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch is calling on the Douglas administration to conduct a thorough study of how many state government services are outsourced to foreign countries. An investigation by the Bennington Banner revealed that some social welfare information services are sub-contracted to a firm in India.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The news that some subcontracted services involving the state’s food stamp program are being handled by a call center in India came as a total surprise to the Douglas administration. The contract is part of a multi-state arrangement with Citibank to process the electronic debit cards that are used by recipients of the food stamp program.

Citibank subcontracts part of its authorization work to a company that uses call centers in India to deal with lost cards and verification issues for the program. Senator Welch wants the Douglas administration to study all of its contracts to see “if this situation is just the tip of the iceberg”:

(Welch) “First we should get an inventory to find out what other jobs in state government are being outsourced. We need to know that and then secondly we should really have a policy where we keep our jobs in-country. We can find ways here to get cost effective service for the taxpayer but provide employment to American citizens, preferably Vermonters.”

(Kinzel) The contract, which is a five-year agreement for services, is due to be renegotiated in the next few months. Welch called on Governor Jim Douglas to reject the contract if it still contains the outsourcing provision because Welch argues a continuation of the policy makes no sense at all:

(Welch) “It’s one way to keep unemployment high. It’s one way to keep wages low. It’s one way to just pursue an economic development strategy that leads to a dead end.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he’d like to get rid of the outsourcing provision but the governor says there are some practical issues that need to be considered:

(Douglas) “I would like to change it but we also have to maintain the service, which in this case is the food stamp program for the people of Vermont. It’s important that the service be made available first and foremost. And we’re going to do what we can to address the outsourcing issue, but it’s complicated because it’s a subcontractor, it’s a multi-state relationship. I don’t know what alternatives there are in the marketplace. So it’s something that we’ll have to look into.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says Human Services Secretary Charles Smith will be meeting with his counterparts throughout the region in an effort to draft a new contract that eliminates the outsourcing section.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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