Last month, the governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, signed an executive order forbidding the purchase of services from overseas companies. His reasoning is that it’s better for “recovery” that state agencies be forbidden from purchasing services from companies located overseas. Unfortunately, Strickland is not going far enough. Given how Ohio’s unemployment rate has been above the national average for the last several years, clearly the executive order should limit state agencies to purchasing services from companies based in Ohio. Actually, even better, to help out poor Meigs county residents, the executive order should mandate that services be provided solely from providers in Meigs county. In fact, Chester Township, in Meigs county, has an unemployment rate north of 14%, so the executive order should focus on there. But we’re going to focus jobs on Township Highway 1024 instead of those State Route 248 snobs, so we’ll go there. Heck, while we’re at it, only companies located at the corner of Township Highway 1024 and Scout Camp Road should be eligible for services. We are going to stimulate that street corner like never before!
All joking at the expense of our soon-to-be-former governor aside, what’s interesting is the way in which people in state agencies are trying to get around this executive order, and how loosely it’s being interpreted. Suppose you were looking at a security tool. Imperva has one of the better tools on the market. They have a headquarters in Redwood Shores, California and a headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel. Would it violate the executive order to purchase their product? “Well, no…” say the legal people: the executive order just says “services,” not “products.” But what if they have help desks located in California, Israel, and the Philippines (to provide 24-hour support)? That is an open question, even though the text of the document reads that “Despite these requirements, federal stimulus funds were recently used to purchase services from a domestic company which ultimately provided some of those services offshore. This incident was unacceptable […]” It sounds like this product should be forbidden, and yet there are two state agencies which recently purchased it (though probably before the stupid executive order was put into place).
What about products we currently have? One of the best database software companies is based out of the UK, so clearly they’re a bunch of filthy foreigners who shouldn’t get our money. Boo to them! But there’s a legitimate chance that they can win an open competition for software procurement: they provide good products at a very low price. We don’t use them in our agency (I ended up selecting a different company), but our governor has made it so that they’re just right out.
One product we do own is based in Australia and—heaven forfend!—their tech support is also out of Australia. Aside from sucking our money into their evil, down under paws, they provide a valuable service which makes our agency run more efficiently. We use Microsoft SQL Server, which includes a large number of foreign developers, support staff, MVPs, and so on. Apparently, I should stop using that.
Honestly, if Strickland wanted to increase the number of jobs in Ohio and stimulate the state economy, he could start by making it a better place to do business. Ohio is currently a below-average state in terms of doing business, and is miserable at business-friendliness and its workforce. Other charts have Ohio placing even worse (though apparently small businesses are better off). Getting rid of onerous legislation and regulation, as well as lowering taxes (and spending, to balance the budget) would do a lot more to help than a half-cocked import substitution scheme.