DoD IG Reviews Federal Program to Combat Human Trafficking

Last week, the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General (DoD IG) released a report on its multi-year review of DoD’s Combating Trafficking in Persons (CTIP) program. The IG found some improvements in federal efforts to address human trafficking, but also identified a number of areas that need more work in order to fight this global crisis.

Beginning in 2009, the IG reviewed a sample of contracts for which there was a heightened risk that contractors engaged in human trafficking (see subtitle D for the method of determining the level of such risk). For the past decade, the U.S. military has been outsourcing its overseas base-support responsibilities to contractors. These contractors fill the lowest-paying jobs with third-country nationals, who work long hours in dangerous conditions and are paid much less than American or local contract workers. Mired in debt because of the recruitment fees, these workers often have no choice but to stay and work until their debt is paid off.

Through a series of site visits, briefings, and interviews, the IG observed evidence of several positive efforts from the DoD to combat human trafficking. These efforts include:

  • The Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy Office and the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics have drafted guidelines to implement Executive Order 13627, “Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts.” In addition, the Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy Office has also taken steps that significantly increased the rate of CTIP clause inclusion in DoD contracts. In the sample contracts the IG evaluated between FY 2009 and FY 2011, for example, the rate of inclusion increased from 50 percent to 97 percent.
  • The Army and Air Force Exchange Service has been addressing allegations of human trafficking in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. For example, they are inspecting employee working and housing conditions and conducting random passport checks to ensure that employers are not illegally holding them.
  • The U.S. Central Command Joint Theater Support Contracting Command has developed additional contract clauses that advance CTIP efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. These clauses require all subcontractors working on DoD contracts to provide employees with signed copies of their employment contract in both English and their native language, and to comply with international host-nation transit/exit/entry requirements. The clauses also prohibit the use of recruiting firms that charge recruitment fees.

These efforts could be an important step towards wiping out what is essentially modern-day slavery. The Project On Government Oversight has been highlighting this issue for quite some time through letters to the DoD, testimony before Congress, and public comments urging the federal government to strengthen its zero-tolerance policy against human trafficking.

However, the IG also identified four areas that did not meet policy standards or expectations. First, CTIP programs still do not comply completely with current DoD policy. The IG found that the programs have not clearly defined the CTIP requirements that DoD Components are responsible for. The programs have also failed to develop a clear process for DoD Components to report and investigate human trafficking allegations.

Second, the IG found that, although the DoD CTIP Instruction requires DoD Components to oversee and assess CTIP programs, few have actually done so. Thus, these components have missed the absence of certain CTIP program elements. For example, CTIP requires the establishment of worker reception centers for newly arriving contracted workers to gain awareness of the human trafficking problem. However, because the DoD Components have not assessed their CTIP programs, they were unaware that many field commands never established the centers until the IG discovered the mistake in 2012.

Third, the IG found that the CTIP Instruction does not provide enough guidance for mitigating human trafficking violations or responding to alleged human trafficking incidents. As a result, field commands are not sufficiently prepared to carry out those responsibilities.

Finally, the IG found that CTIP awareness training in DoD Components is incomplete, in that not all DoD Component employees have taken the mandatory annual CTIP training, and the DoD has not required its contractors to complete the annual training. DoD employees and contractors are therefore not equipped to prevent, identify, or report human trafficking activities.

The IG made a range of recommendations to improve CTIP’s implementation. These recommendations include publishing updated CTIP guidelines, establishing a clear process for reporting human trafficking activities, and expanding program monitoring by the CTIP Program Management Office.

Combating the human trafficking crisis is not new to the federal government’s policy agenda, especially when it comes to eradicating activities that force third-country nationals into war zone labor through fraud or coercion. However, despite the extensive legislative and executive attention, labor abuses remain a serious problem. A recent “Fault Lines” investigation published by Al Jazeera America found compelling evidence of exploitation of third-country nationals on U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, in which DoD subcontractors and recruiters cooperated to profit from excessive fees charged to third-country nationals seeking work.

In order to change this situation, workers need to be hired directly by subcontractors, who cannot charge a recruitment fee, rather than by labor brokers, who often charge thousands of dollars and funnel kickbacks to subcontractors and local recruiters. However, Al Jazeera reported that, according to Sam McCahon (a former Army judge advocate general officer), this is unlikely to happen because of the high level of profitability under the current recruiting system.

According to the “Fault Lines” report, as of January 2014, there were 37,182 third-country nationals working on bases in the U.S. Central Command region, including war zones in both Afghanistan and Iraq.