By DANA LIEBELSON
U.S. taxpayers unknowingly fund human trafficking in Iraq and Afghanistan because of poor contractor oversight--but bipartisan Members of Congress are cracking down on this deplorable crime. A new bill introduced on Monday in the House and the Senate incorporates many of POGO's recommendations for stopping U.S. contractors and subcontractors from getting away with modern-day slavery. Some contractors may complain, but both versions of the bill deserve resounding support from the public.
The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act (S. 2234 and H.R. 4259) is sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. James Lankford (R-OK) respectively, along with many notable cosponsors. The legislation is the long-awaited response to a variety of reports from war zones over the course of several years—including the Commission on Wartime Contracting’s final report, which found “tragic evidence of the recurrent problem of trafficking in person by labor brokers or subcontractors of contingency contractors.”
POGO Director of Investigations Nick Schwellenbach testified before a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on this issue in November.
The legislation includes many of the important recommendations POGO made at that hearing. For example, it expands the definition of “fraudulent recruiting” to include the recruiting of laborers who work on U.S. government contractors outside the U.S. At present, the law only applies to those who are recruited to work in the U.S. The bills also requires anti-trafficking in persons clauses to be included in contracts—a recommendation POGO made, as it helps contracting officers hold contractors accountable.
Additionally, the bills require contractors with contracts over $1 million plans to implement anti-trafficking plans, and tell the U.S. government when its subcontractors are violating the law.
“The legislation would give the government sharper and more potent weapons to fight human trafficking in our contractor supply chain,” said Schwellenbach.
A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee held a hearing yesterday on the topics covered in the legislation. At the hearing, Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador-at-Large at the State Department, reaffirmed in his testimony that this legislation picks up where existing laws fail.
“We’ve come to understand that the role of government in fighting this crime need not be limited to law enforcement and the provision of victim services,” CdeBaca said. “Policies that apply what we’ve learned about supply chain monitoring, responsible labor recruitment practices, and honorable conduct to government procurement and contracting [will] have ripple effects far and wide into the private sector.”
With its widespread, bipartisan support, this legislation has a good chance of passing—but given previous contractor opposition to anti-trafficking rules, it’s likely that contractors will try to push back or water down some of its provisions. However, this legislation provides a tangible solution to an abhorrent problem that has gone on too long.
For more information on the trafficking crimes this legislation would address, be sure to check out POGO’s recent podcast with Sam McCahon and Sindhu Kavinamannil, two activists who are making a documentary about the labor trafficking.
"The bill is well written and fairly comprehensive," McCahon, a former federal prosecutor who has spent time in private practice working on the issue of labor trafficking on U.S. government contracts, told POGO. "I think it is the best chance for change and I am supporting the measure."
Dana Liebelson is POGO's Beth Daley Communications Fellow.