There has been much consternation in India's print and electronic media over a Democratic Party Congressman and a Republican Party representative jointly introducing The US Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act in the form of a bipartisan Bill in the US House of Representatives.
It seeks to make American corporations which establish offshore call centres ineligible for grants and guaranteed loans from the Federal Government. It also requires the US Department of Labour to publicly list US firms that move call centre jobs overseas, the American companies to give 120-day advance notification of a proposed move offshore, the call centre employees to tell US consumers where they are located, if asked, and the call centres to transfer calls to a US call centre, if asked.
With India having more than 50 per cent share of the global outsourcing market, including call centres, number-crunching back offices and software development outfits, and the number of call centre-related jobs approaching 500,000, no wonder the media in India have gone to town projecting a frightening scenario of the country being out in the cold consequent on the Bill.
The purpose of my column today is not to go into the contents of the Bill, but ask everyone in India to relax. I do so based on my having been part of the US legislative power structure as a US Congressional Fellow. (Subhash Kashyap, Constitutional expert and former Secretary-General of Lok Sabha, is the only other person in India to be so invited).
In that capacity, I had had the occasion to work with Senators and Congressmen, besides having the opportunity to service some of the Congressional Committees, and watch the progress of the Bills through the various stages of consideration.
The ‘introduction' of a Bill in either House of the US Congress does not have the same sanctity or binding force as it has in India or Britain. Any member of the House of Representatives or the Senate can at any time throw into the ‘hopper' by the side of the House Clerk's desk any Bill that he fancies for the nonce.
It may not even be in the proper legal format. The number of Bills thus proposed usually exceeds 10,000 in the course of a year, which means that on any given day, the number collected from the ‘hopper' may come to 30 or more.
The Clerk gives the Bill a number and, with the approval of the presiding officer of the House concerned, sends it to the office of the Committee dealing with the subject. Most of the time, there they go into the oblivion. It is entirely the Committee Chairman's prerogative to decide whether or not it is worthy of further consideration in the form of hearings.
Even if it is picked up for public hearings, their scheduling is uncertain and the process may get prolonged indefinitely. After the hearings are concluded, the Bill is discussed among the Committee members who may propose amendments of their own. The Bill can come to the full House for a further debate and voting only if the Committee itself votes to that effect.
There may again be a long gap between the Committee deciding to send the Bill to the full House and the latter taking it up for debate for voting.
The Bill as passed then goes to the Upper House where it runs through the same gamut and may undergo changes. It is open to the Lower house to accept the Senate version, but if it does not, the changed version will then have to be reconciled with the one passed by the Lower House at a Conference of representatives of both Houses.
The final version thus emerging will once again have to go back to each House and passed. Each of these procedures may get dragged on indefinitely.
So, folks, nothing is going to happen on the Anti-Outsourcing Bill for a long, long time, and at the end of all the labyrinthine course it would run, it may end up where at least two dozen similar Bills ‘introduced' in recent years have ended up: The Legislative Mortuary.