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DoD Should Address Weaknesses in Contractors’ Oversight of Human Trafficking, GAO Says

For overseas missions, Defense contractors rely on foreign workers for services like construction and security. Some workers have alleged labor abuses, like wage withholding, despite the government’s zero-tolerance policy on forced labor and human trafficking.

Army and Navy contracting officials the Government Accountability Office met with were unaware of or unclear on their training and oversight responsibilities for combating trafficking. Also, DOD’s Inspector General and the Army didn’t report all trafficking investigations as required.

GAO recommend that DOD issue guidance, train staff, and report actions taken against non-compliant contractors to protect foreign workers.

The U.S. government has a zero tolerance policy for human trafficking, as established in a presidential directive, but trafficking in persons (TIP) of foreign workers on U.S. government contracts overseas persists. Selected Department of Defense (DOD) components have conducted limited oversight of contractors and not met combating trafficking in persons (CTIP) training requirements for contracts. Twelve of 14 Army and Navy contracting officers and contracting officer representatives (CORs) GAO spoke with said they were not aware of their CTIP oversight responsibilities, as set forth in CTIP guidance. DOD requires CORs to conduct contract oversight, but does not say how they should do so. Moreover, nine of 14 individuals said they took a CTIP training other than the required training for acquisition professionals. DOD CTIP guidance, as of fiscal year 2018, also no longer requires components to report the number or percentage of personnel trained, which may limit DOD’s awareness about whether acquisition professionals have taken their required training. Until DOD provides guidance to explain how contracting personnel should oversee contractor CTIP compliance and ensures they take the correct training, contracting personnel may continue to be unaware of their CTIP responsibilities.

The Army, the Navy, and DOD’s Office of Inspector General (DODIG) have systems for tracking investigations of TIP incidents, but the Army and DODIG did not report all TIP violations and investigations in contracts in annual self-assessments, as required by DOD guidance. For example, the Army and DODIG had incomplete reporting of closed TIP investigations in their annual reporting from fiscal years 2015 through 2020. Without complete reporting, DOD leadership lacks full information on TIP investigations. GAO also found that two investigations led to DOD taking action against the contractors, but the Army contracting officers did not report them as TIP violations in a federal database, as required. DOD guidance and federal regulations have different requirements for who is responsible for this reporting, and the Army has not developed clarifying guidance. Without accurate reporting of actions taken against contractors in this database, contracting officers will lack complete information when making future award decisions involving contractors that engaged in TIP.

GAO is making six recommendations to improve DOD oversight of contractors’ CTIP efforts and reporting of TIP in contracts: two to strengthen guidance on oversight, one to reinstate requirements on reporting the percentage of people trained, and three to clarify guidance for reporting on TIP investigations. DOD concurred with all of the recommendations.

Read the GAO report

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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