Essential workers, including those at Department of Energy nuclear-weapon plants that have not paused operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, should be able to get tested for the virus daily, and have ready access to protective equipment, the chair 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.) said Tuesday on a telephone press conference with a large group of reporters. “That’s what we need.”

Increasing access to testing is something the House’s chief defense policy maker said the Armed Services Committee would look at the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which during an election-year pandemic probably will not be finished until the late fall or winter, Smith said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Smith said the House Armed Services Committee has asked DoE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), 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 the agency has taken to protect its national labs workforce — key members of which are in the retirement-age group that is especially vulnerable to the virus — or production site workforce, which is expected to report for work as usual amid a worsening pandemic.

As the NNSA prepares to climb the steep part of the modernization cost-curve, the Kansas City National Security Campus, in Kansas City, Mo., the Patnex 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; Kansas City has not confirmed a case. NNSA production work at the Savannah River Site, tritium harvesting, also continues, even after the Aiken, S.C., site shifted 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 labs, sites and production sites.

“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.