Obama export adviser exports jobs

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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A firm overseen by one of President Barack Obama’s trade advisers has just announced plans to export 149 white-collar jobs — including numerous high-tech jobs — to an India-based info-tech firm.

The outsourcing announcement came during an election campaign in which Obama’s allies frequently lash former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for supposedly exporting jobs, and only two weeks after Obama showed he had little understanding of outsourcing in the high-tech sector.

“I don’t know your husband’s specialty, but I can tell you there’s a huge demand around the country for engineers,” he told the wife of a laid-off engineer in Fort Worth, Texas. Obama then volunteered himself to find a job for the engineer, who was laid off three years ago.

Some of the 149 Supervalu workers whose jobs are being outsourced will be hired by the Indian firm to assist IT workers in Guadalajara, Mexico, and in Bangalore, India, according to a Supervalu memo described Feb. 7 by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Matthew Rubel is a board member of Supevalu Inc., the Minnesota-based firm that is laying off the workers and exporting the jobs, under a contract with Tata Consulting announced Sept. 14, 2010.

Rubel is also a member of Obama’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations. He’s a very successful retail executive, and was appointed to the 33-member committee in Sept. 15, 2010, along with several other industry executives.

“These highly qualified men and women have agreed to lend their talents to this administration as we work to boost our nation’s exports over the next five years,” said a statement attributed to Obama. The committee advises the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk, a former mayor of Dallas, Texas.

“We need to [compete internationally] in a way that is responsible and fair, and that levels the playing field… [and] I look forward to the wise counsel these individuals will provide on these issues as we work together in the coming months and years,” said the statement, which was published the day after Supervalu announced an initial tech-consulting deal with Tata.

Tata is one of India’s most successful high-tech firms, partly because it has signed outsourcing contracts with many U.S. firms to provide high-tech, low-wage services once accomplished by more expensive U.S. employees.

For example, Tata writes software, manages computer systems and processes U.S. data at Indian locations.

But the outsourcing also reduces costs for U.S. companies, and frees up funds for additional investment and new hires.

There is little data about the number of American high-tech workers whose jobs are exported, such as those at Supervalu.

However, there is “a total of 1.8 million U.S.-born individuals with engineering degrees who are either unemployed, out of the labor market, or not working as engineers,” said an analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies. The analysis used data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to compare the number of engineering degrees to the number of engineering employees.

Some of the engineers have retired. Other are working as managers or in other professional tasks.

But some have also been laid off, including the husband of Jennifer Wedel, a Fort Worth woman who was invited to chat with Obama during a Jan. 30 exchange via the Google+ service run by Google.

“If you send me your husband’s resume I’d be interested in finding out exactly what’s happening right there because the word we’re getting is that somebody in that kind of high-tech field — that kind of engineer — should be able to find something right away,” Obama told Wedel.

“What industry tells me is that they don’t have enough highly skilled engineers,” said Obama, whose White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness includes several CEOs that use H1-B visas to import foreign high-tech engineers

Obama’s allies have repeatedly slammed Romney for supposedly outsourcing jobs during his investment career.

“Romney’s claim that he created 100,000 jobs at Bain Capital… [but] his goal wasn’t creating jobs at Bain — but to make a fortune as a corporate buyout specialist by bankrupting companies, firing workers, closing plants and outsourcing American jobs,” Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said Jan. 12.

Supervalu’s outsourcing announcement was part of a cost-saving measure intended to reduce the money-losing company’s workforce by 800 jobs.

Before the latest announcement of job cuts, the company and its subsidiaries shrank their workforce by 1,750 jobs since 2010, amid cost-cutting that was forced by economic losses during the stalled economy.

During 2011, almost 13 percent of Minnesota’s workers were unemployed or underemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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