Government agencies are paying out millions of dollars to contractors that violate federal labor laws and affect more than 11,000 workers around the country, according to a new report from the Center for Public Integrity.

Examining 1,154 contractors recently investigated by the Department of Labor, the Center for Public Integrity found that between January 2015 and July 2016 federal contracts were modified or granted with 68 contractors with substantive violations, according to an exposé by Talia Buford and Maryam Jameel. 

Some of the most egregious violators included Sterling Medical Associates (a health care provider for the Department of Veterans Affairs, among other agencies), the Corrections Corporation of America (the nation's second-largest private prison firm) and Cornell University. In total, these three were flagged for nearly 3,000 violations and had to pay more than $2.4 million in back wages.

Agencies awarded more than $18 million to companies with documented cases, with the Department of Defense employing the most violators at 49. Combined, those DoD contractors received $15 billion while owing almost 6,200 workers $4.7 million in back pay.

Policing federal contractor compliance falls to the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division, but closing a case can become difficult following employer appeals or disputes. The statute of limitations and issues with documentation can result in low payouts for employees that identify delinquent employers.

An Obama administration rule requiring violation self-reporting to improve compliance of wage and safety laws with fewer investigations launched directly by agencies was recently blocked through the Congressional Review Act. Even without that regulation, the Labor Department can debar or suspend companies that break the law on a federal job; this was the case with 49 firms in 2016.

It remains to be seen what effect lobbyists will have on the Trump administration and what President Trump's executive policy will do to federal labor guidelines and contracting standards — including transparency and giving preference to employers paying a "living wage" — Buford and Jameel write in their article.

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