State Defends Outsourcing to India Call Center

State Defends Outsourcing to India Call Center

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah has contracted with a company that handles questions about welfare accounts from a call center in India, a $7.8 million deal that's being executed amid mounting criticism of sending jobs overseas.

Utah is one of many states that have contracts with eFunds, a private company with more than 900 call centers and one of the top three "business process outsourcing" companies in India.

"This is a real discussion we need to have," said Rep. David Clark, R-Santa Clara, and chairman of the Utah Technology Commission. "Our message has always been to do things efficiently and cost effectively, but how far do we want to go? Do we feel comfortable if it is a state away, three states away or around the world?"

Some states are stopping the practice.

In New Jersey, welfare administrators paid out nearly $1 million to operate a call center rather than continue doing business with eFunds, while North Carolina officials want lawmakers to spend $1.2 million for a call center in its state. Several other states, including Alabama, Minnesota and California, are considering legislation to ban states from outsourcing jobs overseas.

Utah has a five-year, $7.8 million contract with eFunds, which had been handling the calls through a Wisconsin office until it sent the business to India in February 2003. The contract had been with Zions Bank, which decided it would no longer offer the service associated with electronic benefit transfers, or EBT cards.

About 40,000 Utah households have the Horizon card, which offers recipients, depending on qualifications, food, cash and child-care assistance. The cards can be used at businesses for food items, at automatic-teller machines for cash and to pay for child care, said Department of Workforce Services spokesman Curt Stewart.

"eFunds handles all those transactions, something certainly as a state we are not set up to do," Stewart said.

But Clark questions the message it sends to have state services performed by foreign workers when the U.S. economy continues to struggle. Clark, who chairs the Utah Technology Commission, said the decision to use taxpayer money to send jobs oversees needs to be examined.

Heather Tritten, with the advocacy group Utah Issues, said she hopes the issue gets the attention of Utah's lawmakers.

"Certainly sending jobs overseas is a huge issue, especially as we are trying to grow the economy. Those jobs, once they are gone, they are gone."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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