February 22, 2019

Newly-Released GAO Report on Workplace Safety Among DOD Contractors Suggests Rampant Labor Law Violations

Lack of Labor Compliance by Companies With Large, Taxpayer-Funded Contracts Endangers the Safety of American Workers

Text of Report (PDF)

Washington, DC - The Government Accountability Office released a new report yesterday, as required by a 2018 defense bill provision secured by United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), indicating widespread, serious workplace safety violations among Department of Defense (DOD) contractors and gaps in DOD's process for reviewing prospective contractors' safety records.

DOD spends hundreds of billions of dollars each year on goods and services provided by contractors and subcontractors. Federal regulations require that contracts be awarded only to "responsible prospective contractors." However, some companies have been caught seriously endangering their workers while continuing to receive massive federal contracts.  "52 of the selected companies were cited for a total of 195 serious violations from fiscal years 2013 to 2017," noted the GAO. "For some, but not all, of these serious violations, the related inspection data described accidents in which 7 workers died, 20 were hospitalized for severe injuries..."

These accidents included: "a hydrogen blast in a melting chamber resulted in one worker being pinned under a 20,000 pound lid, another receiving second degree burns, and a third being killed; a barge capsized after a crane tilted over, and one worker drowned; a worker fell 98 feet from an elevator and was killed; a worker sustained a fatal electric shock when replacing jumper wires on a high voltage transmission corner tower, and another worker was injured..." among other incidents, according to the report.

"The Defense Department's contract workforce contributes every day to our national defense and should never be at risk of exposure to unsafe and unhealthy working conditions," said Senator Warren. "The GAO's report confirms the Pentagon needs to crack down on its contractors who are breaking the law."

Congress recognized the urgency of addressing this problem by including Senator Warren's provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requiring that the GAO study DOD's existing procedures for evaluating the workplace safety records of its contractors, also included in Senator Warren's Contractor Accountability and Workplace Safety Act. Senator Warren also previously wrote to the Undersecretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Navy to raise these concerns, citing numerous violations of safety standards by contractors, including the death and permanent injuries of workers at a shipyard that received hundreds of millions of dollars in Navy contracts.

Senator Warren has consistently fought to protect the safety of all workers, including those working for major defense contractors, through her legislative and oversight work. In March 2017, she led a group of Senators in pressing for a criminal investigation into a major shipbuilder that repeatedly violated workplace safety laws, resulting in workers' injuries and deaths. Weeks later, Congressional Republicans and President Trump repealed the "Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order," which required companies to disclose labor violations, a decision Senator Warren vigorously opposed. In summer 2017, she secured a commitment from Navy Secretary Richard Spencer to improve workplace safety among contracted shipbuilders.