In April 2011, an explosion and fire at a Waipahu, Hawaii, storage bunker killed five men who were disposing of illegal fireworks seized by federal authorities. The men were performing the work for a Treasury Department subcontractor named Donaldson Enterprises, Inc. (DEI).
Yesterday, at a public meeting, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) released a final report and recommendations regarding this tragic accident. The CSB concluded that the incident was the result of DEI’s unsafe practices, as well as a lack of national fireworks disposal guidelines and a lack of government-wide safety and environmental responsibility requirements for federal contractors. POGO attended the public meeting and presented a comment about the contractor responsibility implications of the tragedy.
We agree with the CSB’s recommendation to the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council to establish an additional contractor responsibility requirement focusing on contractor safety performance. We support this change because, as the Government Accountability Office found in 2010, and as we know from our Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, federal contractors receiving billions of taxpayer dollars often have abysmal workplace health and safety records. Safety compliance programs and violation histories should be among the first things a contracting officer checks when assessing a prospective contractor’s responsibility.
Although the CSB did not recommend it, POGO also thinks the FAR Council should expand the scope of information contractors are required to report in the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) database to include environmental and workplace safety violations not occurring during the performance of a federal contract or grant. We are somewhat concerned, however, that neither a state workplace safety citation nor federal criminal charges brought against the company as a result of the disaster show up in DEI’s public FAPIIS record, even though DEI was performing the fireworks disposal as a federal subcontractor.
Finally, it came to POGO’s attention during yesterday’s public meeting that DEI, despite the aforementioned citation and criminal charges, is still eligible to receive federal contracts and subcontracts. DEI does not show up in the federal government’s list of suspended and debarred contractors. In fact, federal contracting data shows that DEI has won more than $920,000 in contracts since the Waipahu tragedy.