President Donald Trump promised Tuesday to crack down on offshore outsourcing, which he blamed for displacing some of the best American workers. He didn't say how he might do it and didn't raise the H-1B visa issue, which he has previously blamed for enabling offshoring.
But Trump aimed a fiery broadside at offshore outsourcing at an Oval Office ceremony concerning two bills, both aimed at encouraging more women to study and seek careers in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). His comments went well beyond the scope of the two bills.
"Currently, only one in four women who gets a STEM degree is working in a STEM job, which is not fair and it's not even smart that people aren't taking advantage of it," said Trump at the bill signing Tuesday. He called it unacceptable.
"Protecting women with STEM degrees and all Americans with STEM degrees -- very important," said Trump, It "also means you have to crack down on offshoring because offshoring is a tremendous problem that displaces many of our best American workers and brains, the brain power."
One of the bills signed by Trump requires NASA to do more more to encourage women to take up STEM careers. The other is aimed at the National Science Foundation with the intent of helping women seek careers in commerce.
Trump and his administration have cited the H-1B visa program's role in IT offshore outsourcing. The administration wants to move to a "merit-based" H-1B distribution system, but the president has yet to say how that might work.
A merit-based system would likely involve moving from a random H-1B lottery to a distribution system that uses other criteria, with the goal of making it harder for large IT offshore outsourcing firms to get thousands of visas approved.
The clock is ticking on H-1B visa reform.
The IEEE-USA has been warning that unless Trump takes action by April 1, when the annual H-1B lottery is held, a major portion of the visas handed out later this year will go to offshore outsourcing firms, as they have in previous years.
"The president didn't have to bring up outsourcing -- he chose to," said Russ Harrison, the IEEE-USA's director of government relations. "The bills didn't have anything to do with outsourcing, but the president chose to make that connection. And it is a good one.
"There is no point in encouraging girls to get STEM degrees if only H-1Bs are getting hired," Harrison said.
By pointing out that only one in four women are getting STEM jobs, Trump is also implying that he takes an exception to industry views that there is a shortage of STEM workers.
Hal Salzman, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University, said that although women are 39% of all STEM grads, they are only 24% of STEM workers.
"Interestingly, STEM issues are an area where Trump's staff are generally correct on the numbers and facts, probably more so than most politicians and policy makers, and certainly more than previous administrations," Salzman said.