WASHINGTON, D.C.—A new White House Executive Order (EO) to strengthen the federal contracting system by promoting compliance with federal labor law echoes many recommendations from a 2013 report issued by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, that revealed widespread labor law violations by major government contractors that went unnoticed in the contracting process.
“As my report revealed, the growing use of federal service contracts has meant that millions of Americans are now employed by major government contractors under deals worth billions of dollars. Thanks to the President’s executive action, we will allow the federal government to lead by example when it comes to compliance with important labor laws—by ensuring that job sites are safe and hazard-free, and by ensuring workers are receiving the wages they are entitled to under the law,” Harkin said. “Today’s Executive Order will ensure that we are using taxpayer dollars smartly in a way that improves compliance with our laws and raises workplace standards for workers across the country.”
The HELP Committee’s investigation represented the first comprehensive report of its kind. It found that the amount of federal service contracts had increased by more than $200 billion since 2000, with an increasing number of private-sector employees paid with taxpayer dollars. It found that almost 30 percent of companies receiving the highest penalties for violations of federal labor law are also federal contractors. Specifically, the report identified that between 2007 and 2012, 49 federal contractors were accountable for almost 1,800 separate enforcement actions taken by the Department of Labor and paid $196 million in back wages and initial penalties over that period.
These violations had a real impact on the lives of thousands of Americans. For instance, an explosion at a grain elevator owned by the Bartlett Grain Company in October 2011 resulted in the death of six workers and left two others hospitalized. Bartlett was cited for five willful and eight serious violations of workplace safety laws and was assessed $406,000 in initial penalties by OSHA in April 2012. Bartlett Grain also received $16.3 million in federal contracts in 2012.
In response to the President’s executive order, Kevin Bock, the stepfather of one of the workers killed in this tragic explosion, said: “My wife and I lost our son Chad nearly three years ago. He was killed by an explosion at the grain company where he worked, along with six of his coworkers, and two of his coworkers were injured. It should have never happened, but to add insult to injury, his employer Barlett Grain continued to get lucrative government contracts. The government has a responsibility to contract with responsible employers. I applaud Senator Harkin for bringing attention to this issue and thank President Obama for taking action on it.”
Key Findings of the Harkin Investigative Report: A Need For Reform in Federal Contracting
Recommendations from the Harkin Investigative Report Included in White House EO
According to a fact sheet published by the White House, the President’s EO contains eight key provisions to ensure that Americans employed under major federal contracts receive the pay they have earned and are protected from health and safety hazards. Many of these provisions reflect recommendations from Chairman Harkin’s investigative report.