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US state draws flak for hiring Indian techies

Indiana has hired programmers from India to update its computers, inviting much domestic criticism.

business Updated: Oct 16, 2003 12:19 IST

In a $15.2 million contract, the American state of Indiana has hired programmers from India to update its computers, inviting in the process much domestic criticism.

By awarding the contract to Tata America International Corp, the Indiana government has invited severe criticism from several quarters for not giving the job to American professionals in the US.

But the real story may be in how vulnerable even hi-tech workers are to global competition. The state says no companies in Indiana— an east north-central state with a population of six million— submitted proposals for the $15.2 million computer project.

This was disputed by Gary Overman, president of NML Consulting in Carmel.

Overman said he wrote to the agency offering to help, but no one replied. Calls to the Department of Workforce Development for comment on Wednesday were not returned.

Overman thinks Tata America International Corp was able to underbid American companies for the job by paying programmers substantially less than American competitors.

Tata insists it will pay the local prevailing wage. But Overman says the company is talking about the prevailing entry-level pay, about half of what experienced programmers make, according to a report in the Indianapolis Star, published from Indiana state.

Who thought that even computer programmers could be replaced by foreign competition?

Art Minar, American software professional who was laid off recently, didn't think so. Just four years ago, he and other experienced programmers had little trouble finding work. Now, in a rough economy, it's a different story. Minar was out of work for eight months recently.

"The jobs really are still there— they're just not being done in the United States anymore," the Star report quoted him as saying.

One of his former co-workers was unemployed for nine months and finally got a job selling used cars.

Minar, 51, is a programming contractor now, doing work for Marion County. His wife's teaching job helped keep the family afloat. They have a son at Indiana University.

Another son, Phillip, graduated from Purdue University last spring.

His degree is in computer science, which means he spent four years at one of America's best engineering schools studying calculus, database design and programming languages.

And Phillip, with $20,000 in student loans to pay off, job-hunted for months. He finally found something recently— as a waiter at a Cheeseburger restaurant.

One night some old friends from his high school came to the restaurant, around the time the Department of Workforce Development was about to hire a company to bring in programmers from 8,000 miles away to work in Indianapolis.

Minar was cleaning tables when his friends walked in. "It was embarrassing," he said. But he didn't show it. He just told them that this was a part-time job that he found easy to do.

And thereby hangs the tale of frustration among American-born, American-educated youth.

First Published: Oct 16, 2003 11:48 IST