OSHA Rule in FAR Clothing: The Government Contractor “Blacklisting” Rule

By Eric J. Conn

Following President Obama’s 2014 “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” Executive Order (EO 13673) — commonly referred to as the “Blacklisting” Executive Order by government contractors — this Spring, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council in conjunction with the Department of Labor (DOL) issued proposed regulations and guidance implementing EO 13673. The companion proposals establish expansive new reporting obligations requiring disclosure of any OSHA citation issued — still just allegations — FAR 1within the three years prior to bid submission, as well disclosures of all other “administrative merits determinations” issued under 13 other labor laws. The proposals then require regular bi-annual reporting of the same data throughout the life of the contract.

Although the proposals are purportedly designed to identify and prevent “irresponsible” companies from obtaining federal contracts, because they cast such a broad net, based on mere allegations of violations, the rule’s likely effect will be to significantly intensify the scrutiny to which contractors will likely be subjected (and the costs they will need to bear to comply with the rule) without accomplishing the President’s objectives of ferreting out irresponsible contractors.

Specifically, the proposed regulations would require contractors bidding on executive branch contracts with an estimated value exceeding $500,000 to disclose any OSHA citation, regardless of the status of the citation or whether the citation has yet been upheld in the administrative review process afforded employers. All OSHA citations must be reported under the proposals, even citations characterized as “OTS,” or “other-than-serious,” the characterization OSHA applies to minor paperwork violations. The disclosure requirements apply equally to citations issued under the 27 state plan programs administered by state occupational safety and health agencies such as CAL/OSHA.

In addition to the disclosures contractors must make, prime contractors also must collect the same information from every subcontractor who has a contract or bid exceeding the $500,000 threshold (with the exception of subcontractors whose contract is for commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) goods or services).

The DOL guidance indicates that contracting agencies’ “responsibility” determinations will consider most heavily only those OSHA citations (or other labor law violations) determined to be “serious, willful, repeated, or pervasive.” While this limitation may sound good, applied in the OSHA context, it provides cold comfort to responsible contractors. A review of 2009 – 2013 OSHA enforcement data shows that the vast majority of citations issued — upwards of 85 percent — are initially characterized as serious, repeat, or willful. This means that Continue reading