As the Senate today considers Bernie Sanders’s legislation to reduce the Pentagon budget, a new government report shows that the Defense Department has been funneling hundreds of billions of dollars to corporations that regulators have “cited for willful or repeated safety, health or fair labor standards violations.”
Nearly one out of every $10 spent on Pentagon contracts has gone to such corporations, reports the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a study of contracts between 2015 and 2019.
While those 727 companies represent only about 1 percent of all firms doing business with the Pentagon, they receive $208 billion worth of contracts — or 12 percent of all the department’s contract obligations. The companies “represent a range of industries, including manufacturing; professional, scientific, and technical services; and construction,” according to GAO.
In all, the agency found more than 2,150 willful or repeated violations of workplace safety laws, and nearly 5,200 willful or repeated violations of wage laws.
“The most frequently found willful or repeated safety and health violations related to toxic substances and machinery,” GAO investigators said. “The most frequently found willful or repeated fair labor violations related to failure to pay overtime.”
The GAO study follows a report on the Pentagon burying a proposal to eliminate $125 billion in administrative waste and a separate report about Defense Department auditors being unable to accurately account for trillions of dollars of spending.
It also follows a 2017 Center for Public Integrity (CPI) report showing that in the last two years of the Obama administration, “federal agencies modified or granted contracts worth a total of $18 billion to 68 contractors with proven wage violations.” The Defense Department “employed the most wage violators — 49, which collectively owed $4.7 million in back pay to almost 6,200 workers,” according to CPI.
“The Labor Department tried to address the problem in 2016 with a rule that would have required federal contractors to disclose wage and safety violations and come into compliance with the law if they wanted to keep doing business with the government,” CPI reported. “Invoking a statute rarely used prior to the Trump administration, however, Congress voted to undo the regulation — already on hold because of a legal challenge — and Trump sealed its fate with his signature.”
Today the Senate is expected to vote on Senator Bernie Sanders’s measure to reduce the Pentagon budget by 10 percent.
The House voted down a similar measure yesterday.