The federal government awards billions of dollars in contracts
to companies that commit serious health and safety violations, many
of them willful and some contributing to fatal accidents, an
investigative study by the General Accounting Office shows.
Poor communication among federal agencies is largely
responsible, the GAO concluded.
The Defense Department and other government agencies gave $38
billion in contracts in the 1994 fiscal year to companies whose
violations were judged serious enough to warrant stiff federal
penalties for breaking workplace safety rules.
More than $1 of every $5 - $38 billion of $176 billion - paid
to federal contractors went to 261 companies that were in violation
of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, according to the report
by the GAO, the watchdog agency for Congress.
"Even though federal agencies may deny the awarding of
contracts . . . for many different reasons, it appears this
authority is rarely exercised for safety and health violations in
part because contracting officials lack information as to which
contractors are OSHA violators," the report states.
This is the first such study relating federal contracts to
workplace safety data.
The report, which took a year and is to be made public today,
was requested by Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill. He wants to restrict
companies with a record of serious safety violations from getting
"It's not that federal contractors are worse or atypical," Tom
Hester, Simon's assistant labor counsel, said Friday. "The point is
that they are federal contractors and therefore can be held to a
higher standard. We should not reward companies that seriously
violate safety and health laws with federal taxpayer dollars."
One way to improve the situation, the GAO writes, would be
better sharing of information among government agencies -
specifically between Occupational Safety and Health and agencies
that award contracts - "to increase the likelihood that a company's
safety and health record will be considered in contracting
The report also suggests that federal safety officials target
contractors that violate safety regulations with more frequent
"We're not criticizing OSHA; they're finding violators," a GAO
official said Friday. "It's a lack of sharing of information
between OSHA and the contracting agencies."
Three-quarters of the $38 billion awarded to contractors in
violation during the 1994 fiscal year - Oct. 1, 1993, to Sept. 30,
1994 - came from the biggest federal contracting agency, the
Department of Defense, chiefly the Navy and Air Force. The
Department of Energy and the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration were next. …