By Keith Koffler
March 2, 2004Business officials leading a new coalition to combat efforts to prevent companies from moving some operations overseas know they have a public relations problem, and they are preparing to act.
"Outsourcing" has become a national dirty word.
And, just as they partially succeeded in converting "fast track" to "trade promotion authority," corporate leaders are about to try to strike outsourcing from the lexicon.
The coalition is now rallying around "worldwide sourcing" as a less provocative term for the movement of jobs around the globe. The change is part of a new strategy to try to impart the business community's view that preventing firms from relocating outside the country to reduce costs will restrict competitiveness and ultimately cost jobs.
Leaders of the business alliance -- called the Coalition for Economic Growth and American Jobs -- have met in recent days and weeks with officials at the White House, the Commerce Department, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to brief them on the new message.
According to one federal official in one of those meetings, the business leaders pushed the term "worldwide sourcing" and suggested adding context to the debate by showing that fears during earlier periods that jobs were going to evaporate because of new technology or foreign competition turned out to be unfounded.
Business officials presented polls and focus groups showing how the issue could be better framed with workers.
Business Roundtable President John Castellani told CongressDaily the new PR campaign stemmed directly from the torrent of attacks on outsourcing in the Democratic campaign. "Our concern was that if we didn't respond, we ran the risk of having a reversal of those kinds of polices that promote economic growth and job creation," he said.
Castellani and others in the coalition referred to their opponents as "isolationists."
AFL-CIO trade lobbyist Scott Paul rejected the term, noting labor's concern with workers internationally. He said unions just want to stop giving companies incentives -- provided by the tax code and trade treaties that he said do not sufficiently protect workers' rights -- to relocate overseas.
Castellani said worldwide sourcing was a more appropriate term because outsourcing has for decades referred to efforts by companies to more efficiently manage their costs by contracting with other domestic producers.
With worldwide sourcing, "you participate in worldwide markets, you do the things in those markets appropriate to products and services and do things in the United States that we're best at -- design and innovation," Castellani said.
Administration officials appear undecided on whether they will adopt "worldwide sourcing" for themselves. With the disastrous exception of Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Gregory Mankiw, Bush aides already studiously avoid using the term outsourcing.
The administration also has avoided using the term "outsourcing" to describe its efforts to subject hundreds of thousands of federal jobs to competition from private firms. Administration officials say the term "competitve sourcing" is more accurate, because when agency teams win the competitions, the jobs are not outsourced.
Is the business effort on "worldwide sourcing" just a public relations move? Time will tell. But last year, proponents of "trade promotion authority" got their way after years of failing to pass "fast track."
By Keith Koffler
March 2, 2004