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Federal Contractors Investigation

Acting Responsibly? Federal Contractors Frequently Put Workers' Lives and Livelihoods at Risk

HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin released a report of his investigation into the federal contracting process. The investigation uncovered disturbing evidence that federal contractors commit serious violations of health, safety, and wage laws, and that the contracting process does not do enough to deter those violations.

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Appendix

Senator Harkin's HELP Committee investigation found:

  • Eighteen federal contractors were recipients of one of the largest 100 penalties issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the Department of Labor between 2007 and 2012. Almost half of the total initial penalty dollars assessed for OSHA violations were against companies holding federal contracts in 2012.
  • Forty-two American workers died during this period as a result of OSHA violations by companies holding federal contracts in 2012.
  • Thirty-two federal contractors received back wage assessments among the largest 100 issued by the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor between 2007 and 2012.
  • Thirty-five of these companies violated both wage and safety laws.
  • Overall, the 49 federal contractors responsible for large violations of federal labor laws were cited for 1,776 separate violations of these laws and paid $196 million in penalties and assessments. In fiscal year 2012, these same companies were awarded $81 billion in taxpayer dollars.

Unfortunately, this investigation also demonstrates that the officials responsible for determining if a prospective contractor is a responsible entity prior to awarding a contract lack access to information on labor violations and lack the tools to evaluate the severity or repeated nature of these types of violations. Some of the many incidents of misconduct that are not currently available to contracting officers in this database include:

  • The death of a 46-year-old father of four, who was working as a washroom operator at a Cintas Corporation facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was killed after being swept into an industrial dryer when he attempted to dislodge a clothes jam. The dryer continued to spin with him inside for 20 minutes at over 300 degrees. Cintas received $3.4 million in federal contracts in fiscal year 2012.
  • The death of two employees of a Mississippi shipbuilding and ship repair company owned by ST Engineering Limited, who were killed when highly flammable materials being used to prepare a tugboat for painting ignited, leading to an explosion and fire. Findings of the investigation included failure to properly ventilate a confined space and lack of a rescue service available for a confined space. ST Engineering received $1.9 million in federal contracts in fiscal year 2012.
  • The deaths of seven workers at an Anacortes, Washington refinery owned by Texas based Tesoro Corporation, who were killed when a heat exchanger ruptured and spewed vapor and liquid that exploded. The workers who died were standing near the area of the rupture specifically to attempt to stop leaks of the volatile, flammable gases in the facility which had not been inspected for 12 years prior to the rupture. Tesoro received $463 million in federal contracts in fiscal year 2012.

Conduct by 50 federal contractors led to 1,846 separate enforcement actions between 2007 and 2012