For now, top management at the Department of Energy still plans a phased return to onsite work for employees and contractors starting on Jan. 18.

“Per DoE’s COVID-19 Workplace Safety and Reentry Framework, employees who are designated site critical will return to the worksite on Jan. 18,” a DoE headquarters spokesperson said in a Tuesday email. “As DoE has throughout the pandemic, we are closely monitoring data about COVID-19 and will make adjustments as necessary to keep our team and our communities safe.”

Tarak Shah, chief of staff to Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, told DoE employees in early December of plans to phase out “maximum telework” and move to something more akin to a pre-pandemic operating stance by mid-February.  The Department of Energy, through its semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration, modernizes and maintains U.S. nuclear warheads and bombs.

The return plan would implement the DoE framework, a 20-page document dated Dec. 15, which builds upon and tweaks prior agency guidance.

The DoE envisions a gradual return to greater onsite staffing by bringing back groups of “site critical,” “site flexible” and “site optional” to their pre-pandemic work stations by Feb. 14, according to the document.

The policy does include plenty of caveats and qualifiers. For example, it said managers will have leeway to make their own calls on telecommuting.

“While this plan focuses on reentry to the workplace, DoE recognizes that many employees may be authorized to telework a greater percentage of their time post-reentry than they did before the COVID-19 outbreak based on the experience gained during this pandemic,” the December document says.