Energy Begins to Reopen Offices

Published: June 09, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisCoronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicDOESpending Trends

DOE Headquarters reopened its doors this week to a small percentage of employees as the department moves through a phased framework to return Energy employees and contractors to the workplace.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Department of Energy moved into Phase 1 of its return to workplace framework on June 8, calling just over 250 employees back to work in the National Capital Region.
  • Facility changes at DOE, as well as backlogs in numerous work efforts, provide insight into how contractors may be able to help federal agencies resuming normal operations.
  • A look at DOE COVID contract spending reveals sporadic contract obligations by the department, with some recent spending dedicated to the reopening of facilities.

Headquarters offices at the Department of Energy in the National Capital Region moved into Phase 1 of its reopening plan on June 8. To be clear, the first phase of reopening at DOE primarily calls back those employees unable to perform work duties at home. According to Federal News Network, this means that 3.7%, or 259 of 7,000 National Capital Region DOE employees have returned to the office this week.  

Details in Energy’s Return-to-Workplace-Framework and HQ Framework provide insight into the process, steps and activities involved in helping the department resume normal operations at its facilities.

DOE Reopen Framework

DOE’s framework provides a four-phased reopen approach that applies to Energy employees and contractors affiliated with DOE federal facilities and field sites - not contractor Managed and Operated (M&O) locations like the agency’s national labs. Contractors at M&O locations will develop and submit their own facility plans using specific guidance to outline separate return-to-workplace approaches.

Moving through each phase of the framework will depend on a balance of local COVID-19 conditions and DOE mission necessity. Determination of the federal employees and support service contractors returning to the workplace at each phase is based on the nature of their work. Nonetheless, exceptions are given to those employees/contractors considered vulnerable to the virus, or who cannot return to work due to other closures from COVID-19 (i.e. childcare centers).

For the purposes of planning, DOE estimates two weeks between each phase (starting with Phase 1) in the return-to-workplace framework:

  • Phase 0: includes preparation activities such as sanitizing facilities, creating entrance screening procedures and forming social distancing etiquettes
  • Phase 1: only employees approved by department heads may return. These include employees in mission-critical positions that can better perform work on-site versus at home. In this phase, there is a no-visitors policy and bans on non-mission essential travel continues
  • Phase 2: senior leadership, supporting staff and other high-priority senior-level program staff better positioned to perform jobs on-site may return. Visitors are allowed onsite but subject to entrance screening protocols
  • Phase 3: unrestricted staffing at DOE facilities will resume, all pre-COVID-19 and supervisor-approved work schedules and telework agreements will also resume

Facility Changes

Upon return, employees will comply with established entrance screening and social distancing protocols at facilities:

  • Face Masks: DOE employees are encouraged, particularly in hallways, elevators and crowded spaces, to wear a mask. The agency will provide masks at entrances for employees and visitors who want them
  • Common Areas: Cafeterias and gyms at DOE facilities will remain closed
  • Meetings: In-person meetings will require six feet social distancing, with virtual meetings highly recommended throughout the agency
  • Workspace Design: Open workspaces that condone less than a six foot separation will require those employees to work in shifts, if possible
  • Personal hygiene: DOE will install handwashing or hand sanitizer stations throughout buildings, particularly at entrances, restrooms and other high traffic areas. The agency is also considering the installation of sensor-based equipment such as soap dispensers, sinks and paper towel dispensers

HQ Phased Activities:

Within the HQ framework, DOE outlines specific activities that will resume at each phase. These activities provide insight to contractors on the needs and backlogs agencies will face in reopening buildings. The below activities in each phase are samplings of activities listed in DOE’s plan:

Phase 1:

  • Reestablish full-time executive transportation services, with vehicles modified to create barriers between drivers and passengers
  • Reestablish regular operations for courier services with continued use of distancing protocols including drivers traveling in separate vehicles
  • Bring limited Enterprise Information Technology Services (EITS) staff onsite including Service Desk Tier 2 and Platinum, Asset Management, and Network Operations
  • Expand number of available elevators as re-occupancy increases
  • Begin responding to backlog of building operations routine service calls
  • Begin completing deferred routine building maintenance activities
  • Restart document-imaging services, addressing backlog of requests

Phase 2:

  • Begin badging current employees who came on board during maximum telework and never received a badge
  • Begin delivery of mail, express mail, periodicals, packages and newspapers
  • Reopen supply stores implementing adjustments to shopping processes similar to grocery stores
  • Reestablish Shuttle Bus schedule beginning with limited runs based on demand. Will need barriers for the driver in place and blocked off seating to maintain physical distancing
  • Reopen travel management in-person services and return to standard approval processes
  • Begin work on deferred office moves, carpet requests, and painting requests
  • Restart building renovations construction projects. Work with programs to identify which projects should continue forward and which may need modifications based on potential changes to work environment (such as increased use of routine telework)

Phase 3:

  • Transition from Virtual Onboarding to in-person onboarding. Ensure those who attended virtual onboarding are included in complete New Employee Orientation and complete remaining paperwork (example: I-9 forms)
  • Transition to in-person training, as appropriate. This will be dependent on social distancing protocols and availability of vendors
  • Reopen printing services and begin addressing backlog of requests
  • Begin completing deferred requests for passport and official photos
  • Ensure Tier-1 staff is prepared for surge in IT support calls as customers return onsite
  • Reconcile deployed EITS assets to ensure EITS loaner devices are properly accounted for. Loaners not returned will be charged to the customer organization as a permanent asset

DOE COVID Contract Spending

As of June 9, DOE has spent $713M on COVID-related contract obligations. According to the figure below from GovWin’s Federal COVID-19 Response Analytics, spikes in COVID spending at DOE are due to increased spending for M&O contracts at Argonne, Brookhaven and Pacific Northwest National Laboratories.

Source: Deltek, FPDS

Taking a closer look at the spending occurring in the past 2-3 weeks, several obligations point towards DOE preparing to reopen offices:

  • $1.5M on 5/29 for facilities infrastructure and operations support at DOE’s Paducah Site
  • $352K on 6/3 for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solution
  • $18K on 6/3 for COVID-19 exams as the Hanford Waste Treatment site
  • $3K on 6/3 for purchase of hand sanitizer stations

Contractor Implications

Contractors seeking to assist federal agencies with reopening activities will benefit from observing the spending already done under agencies that have started to reopen and resume operations. COVID-19 spending analysis provides insight into the services and products agencies are acquiring in preparation and during reopening, including janitorial services, personal protective equipment, and new construction and renovation initiatives.

Furthermore, familiarity with federal agencies’ reopening plans and approaches will help to set contractor expectations for return to work at that agency. Reopening plans are also helping to provide insight into the services and other needs agencies face to resume normal operations at workplaces, such as ranges of professional services to aid in work backlogs affected by closures.