Ask Marcus Courtney, president of a Seattle-area union for technology workers, whether state governments should outsource work only to firms that hire U.S.-based employees, and the answer is a predictable yes.

“The fact is that these are taxpayer dollars, and there is clearly a benefit for taxpayer dollars to go to support the economy in this country,” said Courtney, who leads WashTech, a local affiliate of the Communications Workers of America. In today’s stagnant labor market, the union has argued, lawmakers must take steps to keep jobs from heading overseas.

Only recently, however, is such logic gaining ground with legislators. As the prospect of paying drastically reduced wages for qualified workers prompts a growing number of U.S. companies to shift technology and services jobs overseas, state and federal lawmakers are beginning to consider setting limits on outsourcing. So far, efforts have focused largely on contracts for government work.

This fall, opponents of overseas outsourcing are hoping to get a boost from the New Jersey state assembly, which is slated to consider a bill requiring that only citizens or legal residents of the United States be employed to perform certain state contracts. The state senate approved the same measure in December.

Backers of the New Jersey bill say it was drafted in response to complaints about a contract for a state welfare and food stamp program. The contract, granted to an Arizona company, eFunds, came under fire after program participants learned that the firm was fulfilling call center work for the program through a call center in India.

Sponsors say the bill “is intended to ensure that State funds are used to employ people residing in the United States and to prevent the loss of jobs to foreign countries.” The state legislature is also considering a bill (PDF) that would place restrictions on overseas call centers.
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