Essential federal workers, including those at National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) plants that have not paused operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, should have access to protective equipment and daily testing for the virus, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday.
“Every day, if you go to work at the White House, you get tested,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told reporters during a telephone press conference. “That’s what we need.”
The House’s chief defense policy maker said the Armed Services Committee would look into access to testing in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Given that the bill is being prepared during an election-year pandemic, it probably will not be finished until the late fall or winter, Smith said.
He added that the House Armed Services Committee has asked the National Nuclear Security Administration, and other parts of the defense industrial base, “[w]hat are you doing to protect your workers? Is [personal protective equipment] available? How can we make it more available?”
Smith would not say whether the NNSA had informed the committee of any extraordinary measures taken to protect personnel at its national laboratories, key members of which are in the retirement-age group that is particularly vulnerable to the virus, or the employees of its nuclear-weapon production sites, who are expected to report for work as usual amid a worsening pandemic.
The Kansas City National Security Campus, in Kansas City, Mo., the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., are all still running on a more or less normal schedule.
Pantex and Y-12 each have confirmed cases, while Kansas City has not confirmed any infections among its workforce. Harvesting of tritium for nuclear weapons also continues at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C., where work has downshifted to minimum safe operations with four confirmed COVID-19 cases. The NNSA has acknowledged 26 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across its national network of locations.
“Regrettably, because we haven’t ramped up production of the basic production equipment … the workers in these places are having to accept a higher level of risk than any of us would like, because we can’t just let the nuclear enterprise stop,” Smith said.