VT Halter Marine and six other private shipbuilders were awarded more than $100 billion in contracts by the federal government, despite citations for serious safety violations. Credit: Julie Dermansky for Reveal

Sen. Elizabeth Warren sponsored a new law requiring the government to review how the Pentagon monitors safety for its contract workers, including those building Navy ships. But she doesn’t want the Defense Department waiting around for the results.

The Massachusetts Democrat said there’s no need for the Defense Department to wait on the study by the Government Accountability Office before acting to protect workers.  

“While I look forward to the results of GAO’s study, there is no reason for DOD to wait for those results before acting to protect the contract workforce that contributes every day to our national defense,” she said in a statement to Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. “It is long past time for the Department of Defense, along with all federal contracting agencies, to take seriously the risks of awarding massive taxpayer-funded contracts to companies that seriously endanger their employees.”

Warren sent letters this week to Undersecretary of Defense Ellen Lord and Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer requesting updates on their efforts to ensure defense contractors are complying with federal worker protection laws.

“The billions of dollars contractors receive from the Defense Department should be used to create good, safe jobs,” Warren said. “Not one penny of taxpayer money should go to companies that profit by taking shortcuts on worker safety. It’s time for the department, and the entire federal government, to take this seriously.”

Warren pushed for the new law focused on defense contractors’ workplace safety records following an investigation by Reveal, which found that major private shipbuilders for the Navy and Coast Guard dodge accountability for worker safety. These companies have received more than $100 billion in public money despite serious safety lapses that have endangered, injured and killed workers.

The investigation was published on Revealnews.org and in Politico Magazine and aired on the PBS NewsHour and the public radio program “Reveal.”

The new law – included in the 2018 defense policy bill signed by President Donald Trump in December – requires the Government Accountability Office to examine how the Pentagon monitors and evaluates workplace safety violations among defense contractors.

Reveal’s investigation found that Navy contractors, including VT Halter Marine Inc., repeatedly have violated federal safety standards, killing and seriously injuring workers. But the companies have continued receiving Navy contracts.

Warren noted that the Navy has said it plans to increase its fleet but said additional taxpayer dollars should not reward companies that endanger shipyard workers who support the Navy.

During his confirmation hearing, Spencer committed to “looking into how the Navy tracks and monitors workplace safety violations at the shipyards that it’s doing business with.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the name of the Government Accountability Office.

Ziva Branstetter can be reached at zbranstetter@revealnews.org. Follow her on Twitter: @ZivaBranstetter.

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Ziva Branstetter is a senior editor for Reveal, overseeing coverage of immigration and the workplace. She serves on the board of Investigative Reporters and Editors and is a staunch advocate for transparency in government, serving as a plaintiff in numerous open-records lawsuits. She was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in local reporting for an investigation of a botched execution – one of four she witnessed as a journalist in Oklahoma. Branstetter came to Reveal from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she was the first editor in chief of The Frontier, an investigative newsroom she helped launch. Previously, she led the investigations and enterprise team at the Tulsa World. Work she has managed and reported led to indictments, new laws, audits, the release of prisoners and the end to a practice in which police officers paid supervisors to retire early. A two-year investigation by Branstetter and her staff resulted in the indictment and resignation of a seven-term sheriff and a massive overhaul of the sheriff’s office. She and her staff exposed civil rights abuses of inmates who died and were injured in Tulsa’s jail. Branstetter also covered Oklahoma’s man-made earthquake epidemic, several deadly tornadoes and the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. For Reveal, she has written about Oklahoma's female incarceration rate, which has been the highest nationally for more than two decades. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.