Fast Facts

Contracts awarded by the Department of Defense can include work that is physically demanding and dangerous, like construction and manufacturing.

We found some defense contractors had been cited for safety or health violations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn't collect data that could be used to match federal contracts with violations, so it's not always possible to know whether the violations occurred on defense contracts. Also, DOD doesn't always require contractors to be rated on safety.

We recommended DOD and OSHA improve the use and availability of information about workplace safety for defense contractors.

 

Aerial photo of the Pentagon building with the Washington monument in the background

Aerial photo of the Pentagon building with the Washington monument in the background

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Some selected companies with Department of Defense (DOD) manufacturing or construction contracts in fiscal year 2017 were previously cited for serious safety or health violations, according to GAO's analysis of federal data. Of the 192 companies with DOD contracts GAO selected for review, 106 had been inspected by the Department of Labor's (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or state occupational safety and health agencies during fiscal years 2013 through 2017. These inspections resulted in 83 companies being cited for at least one violation, including 52 with at least one serious violation (see figure). However, available data do not allow a determination of whether these violations occurred during work on a DOD contract because OSHA inspection data do not include that information.

Number of Selected Defense Contractors Previously Cited for Occupational Safety or Health Violations, Based on Inspections Conducted from FY 2013 to 2017

Number of Selected Defense Contractors Previously Cited for Occupational Safety or Health Violations, Based on Inspections Conducted from FY 2013 to 2017

The incidence of violations among all inspected companies with DOD contracts cannot be determined because OSHA does not require its staff to obtain and enter a corporate identification number in its inspection data, which is needed to match contracting data to inspection data. As a result, OSHA's data do not consistently include these numbers, and users of OSHA's website cannot use these numbers to search for companies' previous violations. According to federal internal control standards, management should share the quality information necessary to achieve the entity's objectives. Unless OSHA explores the feasibility of requiring a corporate identification number in its inspection data, website users will likely have difficulty obtaining accurate information on individual companies' previous violations.

DOD contracting officials have opportunities during the acquisition process to address contractor workplace safety and health. For example, before awarding certain types of contracts, officials may consider workplace safety and health information when they evaluate prospective contractors' performance on past contracts. However, the past performance information that is available for officials to consider varies by DOD component. One component has a practice of requiring construction contractors to be rated on workplace safety at the completion of the contract, but DOD does not require a safety performance rating department-wide. As a result, contracting officials in other components may lack readily accessible information on contractors' past safety performance, and DOD may miss opportunities to consider safety concerns when awarding new contracts, particularly those in high-risk industries with relatively high rates of occupational injuries, such as manufacturing and construction.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD is the largest contracting agency in the federal government, obligating about $320 billion for contracts in fiscal year 2017. Some DOD contracts—including some in the manufacturing and construction industries—involve work that can be dangerous, and questions have been raised about working conditions for these workers.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 includes a provision for GAO to review issues related to the safety and health records of DOD contractors. This report examines: (1) the incidence of prior serious safety or health violations among selected companies with DOD manufacturing and construction contracts, and (2) how DOD and selected DOD components address contractor workplace safety and health during the acquisition process. GAO matched federal contracting data for fiscal year 2017 to OSHA inspection data for fiscal years 2013-2017 (most recent available); interviewed officials from OSHA, DOD, selected military departments, and selected DOD components; reviewed documentation from six selected DOD contract files; and reviewed relevant federal laws and regulations, policy, and guidance.

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Recommendations

GAO is making one recommendation to OSHA and two recommendations to DOD to enhance available information on contractor workplace safety. OSHA neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO's recommendation, but planned to take action to address it. DOD agreed with the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Occupational Safety and Health Administration 1. The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health should explore the feasibility of requiring a corporate identification number in its inspection database and enabling its website to be searched by that number. This should include exploring the following issues: (1) which corporate identification number would be most appropriate to require; (2) options for obtaining this number from employers; and (3) options for entering this number in its database that would prevent or minimize delays in closing inspection records. (Recommendation 1)
Open
In May 2019, OSHA issued a memo directing staff to make every reasonable effort to collect Employer Identification Numbers or Tax Identification Numbers during inspections and enter them into the inspection database. OSHA also reported that, in June 2020, it provided training to Department of Defense procurement officers on using OSHA's website to find violations and severe injury reports. However, as of June 2020, OSHA had not taken steps to explore the feasibility of requiring a corporate identification number in its inspection database and enabling its website to be searched by that number.
Department of Defense 2. The Secretary of Defense should provide information to contracting officials to advise them that the OSHA website is a resource for information about contractors' workplace safety and health records. (Recommendation 2)
Closed - Implemented
In July 2019, DOD issued a memorandum advising contracting officials that OSHA's website contains information about contractors' workplace safety and health records. The memorandum also described specific instances in which contracting officials might consider this information, including when making contractor responsibility determinations and evaluating contractor past performance.
Department of Defense 3. The Secretary of Defense should explore the feasibility of requiring a safety performance rating for contracts in industries that have relatively high rates of occupational injuries, such as manufacturing, construction, and ship building and repairing. (Recommendation 3)
Closed - Implemented
DOD conducted a review of safety performance ratings for contractors in the construction industry. In this review, which was completed in early 2020, DOD stated that its ability to apply safety performance ratings to non-construction contracts is dependent on the broader contractor community's acceptance of new regulatory requirements, and concluded that such new requirements would be contrary to the de-regulatory environment at that time. DOD also stated that it will continue to explore opportunities within its control to improve the safety of contractors' employees while they deliver defense products and services.

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