As soon as Congress approved it, the Secretary of Energy cleared agency contractors to continue billing the government for paid time off given to workers who cannot do their jobs because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Secretary Dan Brouillette signed the order Oct. 1, allowing all DoE contractors to continue billing for such costs through Dec. 11 under section 3610 of the CARES act — the COVID-19 bailout bill passed in late March. The stopgap budget President Trump signed into law last week also extended the CARES relief.

The Department of Energy, through its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), maintains and modernizes all U.S. nuclear weapons.

As with before, DoE contractors may not bill the government for more than 40 hours per week of paid leave per employee, including sick leave, according to the CARES Act. The law lets the agency tap into funding provided by that legislation, any subsequent COVID-19 bailouts, or any other appropriation, through the end of the 2020 fiscal year.

By mid-April, NNSA had modified all of its management and operations contracts to allow site operators to bill the government under section 3610 of CARES. The same month, DoE’s Environmental Management (EM) Office said it was modifying some of its contracts to allow for CARES Act reimbursement.

NNSA nuclear-weapons production sites have been running their usual three shifts throughout most of the pandemic, but the nuclear weapons labs — Lawrence Livermore in California, and Los Alamos and Sandia in New Mexico — have mostly kept about half of their workforce home since COVID-19 broke out across the country.

EM cleanup sites have also brought more people back inside the fence since the early days of the pandemic. For example the Hanford Site in Washington state had roughly 6,000 people reporting to work each day, or nearly 55% of the site’s total headcount.