Energy sets ‘phase one’ reopening date for employees in D.C. region on June 8

This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 to reflect an additional statement from the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents some headquarters employees at the department. 

A small number of employees at the Energy Department’s headquarters will return to work at their facilities in the national capital region next week.

The department will enter “phase one” of its reopening plan on June 8, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told employees Monday.

About 259 people — about 3.7% of the agency’s 7,000 federal employees and contractors at headquarters — are expected to return to facilities in Washington and Germantown, Maryland, the department said.

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“Phase 1 federal employees are now being contacted by their supervisors with information and virtual training opportunities regarding how to return to our headquarters facilities,” Brouillette said Monday in an email to employees. “Included will be descriptions of the various precautions such as sanitization, screening criteria, hand sanitizer, signage and other preparations that have occurred at our HQ buildings.”

A small number of employees at Energy headquarters have tested positive for coronavirus. Brouillette said 0.3% of the agency’s 7,000-person workforce, about 21 people, had or have confirmed cases.

“As I have said from the beginning of this pandemic, the health and safety of the workforce is of paramount importance and will guide all actions in returning personnel to our facilities,” he said. “As we begin the phased return to headquarters, I remain confident that we will continue to demonstrate the same commitment and dedication to our mission.  Please continue to take care of yourselves and your families, and we will get through this together.”

Per Energy’s headquarters reopening plan, supervisors spent the recent “gating period” identifying which employees can and should return to the office during phase one.

“This includes employees in mission-critical positions whose jobs can be better performed onsite than through telework. These include, for example, staff that need to perform their duties in classified workspace and those that are needed to support limited facility operations. Support service contractors may also be included. All others will remain on telework or [weather and safety leave], as appropriate.”

Employees who are considered at “higher risk” for coronavirus, as well as those with dependent and child care responsibilities may continue teleworking, the department has said.

Employees can’t voluntarily return to the office without prior approval from their managers, the Energy reopening plan said.

Energy employees may wear face coverings in the office, but it’s not a requirement, according to the department’s headquarters guidance. The department will provide masks at facility entrances to those who want one.

The department described its plans to install hand sanitizer stations near building entrances and other high-traffic areas. It may, per the reopening plan, install other touch-less equipment such soap dispensers, faucets and power towel dispensers in national capital region facilities.

Cafeterias and gyms will remain closed at Energy facilities through phase three. Child care centers will also reopen at phase three, according to the department’s guidance.

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents some Energy headquarters employees, acknowledged the vast majority of its bargaining unit members will continue telework beyond the initial June 8 reopening date. Still, safety is a concern.

“NTEU representatives are in regular contact with the COVID-19 response team at the Department of Energy regarding the reopening of facilities,” Tony Readon, the union’s national president, said in a statement to Federal News Network. “We continue to express concerns from employees that before they are asked to re-enter, the facility be adequately cleaned and sanitized, and that there be proper physical distancing between employee workspaces, in addition to other safety protocols.” 

Energy has also set up a “COVID-19 hotline” and inbox where employees can report potential or confirmed coronavirus cases at department headquarters. Hotline staff can also answer general, human resources and other non-emergency questions that employees and contractors might have, Brouillette said.