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Now It's Armenia: USAID Funds IT In Eurasia

After pledging millions to bolster outsourcing in South Asia, federal agency extends largesse to a new recipient.

Even as controversy mounts over its funding of IT outsourcers in South Asia, the U.S. Agency for International Development has announced a program under which it will partner with the government of Armenia—a nation anxious to lure computer work from American shores--to promote the development of the country's information technology industry.

Jonathan Hale, USAID deputy assistant administrator for Europe & Eurasia, is on a four-day trip to Armenia to meet with government and private industry leaders in the country. On his agenda is a meeting with Armenian economic minister Nerses Yeritsyan.

"We look forward to partnering with USAID on the IT sector, which has great potential as Armenia has an advantage in this sector," Yeritsyan said in a statement released by USAID. "We want companies to come to Armenia and create their innovative environments," Yeritsyan said.

Among other things, Armenia is looking to establish itself as a center for low-cost IT and engineering work outsourced from the U.S. and other Western countries.

USAID, a taxpayer-funded federal agency, did not disclose how much it's contributing to Armenia's efforts to become a global IT competitor. Among the U.S. companies participating in the project is Oracle's Sun Microsystems unit.

Word of USAID's mission to Armenia comes a day after InformationWeek disclosed that the agency is contributing millions of dollars to an effort that aims to help Sri Lanka establish itself as a player on the international outsourcing stage.

Under director Rajiv Shah, whom President Obama appointed to run the agency in January, USAID will partner with private outsourcers in Sri Lanka to teach workers there advanced IT skills like Enterprise Java (Java EE) programming, as well as skills in business process outsourcing and call center support.

USAID will also help the trainees brush up on their English language proficiency. USAID is contributing about $10 million directly to the $36 million project.

USAID's efforts to help build up IT and outsourcing industries in Europe and Asia would seem to run counter to Obama's public pledges to keep more hi-tech jobs in the U.S., where unemployment in the technology industry continues to run high.

"This action is contradictory to Obama’s commitment to create jobs and revitalize the American economy," said Rennie Sawade, a spokesperson for WashTech, a Communications Workers of America affiliate that represents IT professionals. "Any taxpayer money that is appropriated to train workers to take American jobs should, without question, be directed toward the unemployed and the underemployed in this country," said Sawade.

USAID officials did not respond to requests for comment.

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