Morning Briefing - March 25, 2020
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March 25, 2020

As Congress Strikes Deal on COVID-19 Relief, EFCOG Seeks Assistance for DOE Vendors

By ExchangeMonitor

Negotiators agreed to language on a $2 trillion economic stimulus bill to help the nation combat the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, CNN and other national news outlets reported.

The specific language of the bill had not been released at deadline for Weapons Complex Morning Briefing.

At press time it was unclear if the package includes provisions that might increase money for employee telecommuting for Department of Energy sites, or financial assistance to federal contractors.

The compromise follows two days of rancor on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers debated versions of the legislation from the Republican-led Senate and Democrat-headed House of Representatives. It is the third relief package from Congress.

The House version of the legislation provides $28 million for the Department of Energy “for necessary expenses related to supporting remote access for personnel to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” The Nuclear Regulatory Commission would receive $3.3 million for similar activities. House Democrats also included a provision giving the secretary of energy authorization to “reimburse any contractor paid leave” for employees who cannot perform their work on a federally owned or leased site.

Meanwhile, the Energy Facilities Contractors Group (EFCOG) is urging the Department of Energy to cushion the financial blow its members could suffer in the near term during the ongoing national emergency.

At issue is ensuring contractor and subcontractor employees at the DOE weapons complex are not driven onto the unemployment rolls by government restrictions enacted to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic, EFCOG Chairman Michael Lempke, president of the Nuclear and Environmental Group at Huntington Ingalls Industries, said in a March 21 letter to senior Energy Department officials.

The Energy Department and its semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration issued guidance last Friday in favor of paid time off in many situations for contractor staff who cannot telecommute, Lempke wrote to NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty and DOE Senior Advisor for Environmental Management William (Ike) White.

But a “subset” of workers and subcontractors could soon be left without a paycheck as their jobs cannot be done remotely and they could be at risk of being prohibited from their worksite, Lempke said. Both the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have already reduced operations to “mission-critical” activities, with many employees telecommuting.

The contractor organization wants DOE to consider paying workers including subcontractors, who by the nature of their jobs cannot really work remotely. These range from hourly maintenance people at cleanup sites to scientists who work on classified projects at DOE sites.

“A fork lift driver can’t really work from home,” one industry executive said by phone Tuesday.