Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has sent letters to Undersecretary of Defense Ellen Lord and Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer requesting updates on their efforts to ensure Department of Defense contractors are complying with federal worker protection laws.
DOD spends hundreds of billions of dollars each year on goods and services provided by contractors and subcontractors. The Federal Acquisition Regulation requires that contracts be awarded only to "responsible prospective contractors." But some companies, Warren alleges including major Navy contractors, have been caught seriously endangering their workers while still continuing to receive massive federal contracts.
Congress recognized the urgency of addressing this problem by including a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requiring that the Government Accountability Office study DOD's existing procedures for evaluating the workplace safety records of its contractors. In the conference report accompanying the FY18 NDAA, DOD was also instructed to improve its contractors' compliance with worker protection laws.
"While I look forward to the results of GAO's study, there is no reason for DOD to wait for those results before acting to protect the contract workforce that contributes every day to our national defense," wrote Senator Warren. "It is long past time for the Department of Defense, along with all federal contracting agencies, to take seriously the risks of awarding massive taxpayer-funded contracts to companies that seriously endanger their employees."
Several of the largest Occupational Safety and Health Administration penalties in recent years have been issued to Navy contractors. OSHA found that shipbuilder VT Halter Marine, Inc., has repeatedly and willfully violated federal safety standards, resulting in the deaths and serious, permanent injuries of multiple workers. But the company has continued receiving Navy contracts.
During his confirmation hearing, Navy Secretary Spencer committed to "looking into how the Navy tracks and monitors workplace safety violations at the shipyards that it's doing business with." Given the Navy's plans to grow the fleet to 355 ships, Warren argued that additional taxpayer dollars should not reward companies that endanger shipyard workers who support the Navy.
Warren requested briefings by DOD and the Navy on their efforts to implement the NDAA conference report's instructions and further details about plans to improve DOD' s monitoring of its contractors' compliance with OSHA standards into the future.