Unfortunately, coyote human smugglers in Central America, child traffickers in Central Asia, and forced labor in the center of our government are all happening today. This month, during Human Trafficking Awareness Month—and everyday—hundreds of nonprofits in the U.S. and around the world are saving adults and children from being trafficked for forced labor, sexual exploitation, or other forms of the disgusting practice of trading, buying, and selling human beings. The U.S. government and each American should do everything we can to stop it. Everything.  

But are we?

Several years ago, I traveled to the Middle East to encourage our troops and to conduct oversight of our contractors. Painfully, on some bases overseas, we had some horrifying actions taking place. Some government contractors brought foreign nationals to work on the base, then confiscated their passports, underpaid them, and blocked their departure. Forced labor on our bases. Human trafficking.

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When our tax dollars are used to facilitate the trafficking of human beings, that violates everything our nation stands for. Protecting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not just an American value; it is a guide post for a better life in any nation for any individual. Learning about what was happening on our bases led to my introducing the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2012, which was designed to force us to examine each contract, discover how prevalent human trafficking was in our contracting, and then stop it for good.

You’d think when the bill was passed, trafficking would end on our bases. But it turned out to be just the first step.

Part of that law included requirements for regular assessments to monitor, detect, and prevent contractors from engaging in these abhorrent practices. A recently published Government Accountability Office (GAO) report as well as annual Defense Department Inspector General (IG) reports show that human trafficking tragically still exists in overseas government contracts.

My original bill in 2012 made sure we acknowledged the problem that our government was helping human traffickers. Identifying where it’s happening ensures we can actually stop it. While these reports are helpful, it’s now obvious we need to take additional action to ensure the State Department and Department of Defense can guarantee to American taxpayers that we are not paying for this shameful practice.

I am now introducing the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2022 to prohibit the U.S. government from funding or participating in human trafficking of vulnerable third-country workers through our contracts overseas, including in defense and national security, and end this practice for good.

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This bill would end any contract found to be involved in human trafficking by requiring all infractions to be sent to suspension and debarment officials, which will prevent any contractor found to be participating in human trafficking from doing business ever again with U.S. taxpayer dollars. The hammer now has to be swift and strong against participating in human trafficking. 

Every senator, every House member, and the president should support my bill to keep the U.S. government out of the sad and disgusting business of human trafficking with Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars. We’re the United States of America. We should always value life and seek to protect the most vulnerable in our society and around the world.

Lankford is the junior senator from Oklahoma.