WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama announced new steps on Tuesday to crack down on the use of forced labor by overseas contractors working for the United States, but Rep. James Lankford accused the president of undermining work under way in Congress.
Obama issued an executive order that would establish new procedures for preventing forced labor from being used on contracts and subcontracts and for investigating potential abuses.
“In short, we're making clear that American tax dollars must never, ever be used to support the trafficking of human beings,” Obama said in a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. “We will have zero tolerance. We mean what we say. We will enforce it.”
Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, held subcommittee hearings on the problem of forced labor being used on U.S. contracts in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, and he co-authored bipartisan legislation that has many of the same components as the president's order, including a requirement that contractors have a plan to comply with the anti-trafficking rules.
Lankford's legislation was made part of the 2013 defense bill that passed the House in May.
The Senate defense bill, which is pending, is expected to include similar language.
Although the president's order doesn't preclude future congressional action, Lankford said he was “saddened that the president plans to undermine months of our bipartisan, bicameral work by issuing a temporary executive order. This is a serious issue that requires legislative solutions and deliberate action, not just political hype.”
Lankford said it was apparent that “the issues of human trafficking cannot be resolved with speeches, executive orders and regulations. Enforcing our value of human life will require legal standing, not administrative opinion.”
In his speech Tuesday, Obama said his administration had expanded anti-trafficking task forces to include the FBI and that intelligence agencies were devoting more resources to the problem.
“And most of all, we're going after the traffickers,” he said. “New anti-trafficking teams are dismantling their networks. Last year, we charged a record number of these predators with human trafficking. We're putting them where they belong — behind bars.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Obama's order doesn't include the most important part of the House bill: criminal sanctions to encompass foreign labor bondage.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which released a study in August with Yale Law School about human trafficking victims, said Obama's order “will help ensure that workers who provide valuable services to our troops and embassies are not trafficked or forced into indentured servitude on the taxpayer's dime.”