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What You Should Know When Doing Businesses as a Contractor With the DOE

The Department of Energy can be a major customer of small businesses — from HVAC contractors to environmental cleanup specialists — which can provide their expertise or source the right equipment.

Like any government department, however, the DOE has its own special rules, regulations, and protections that extend to contractors. If you or your business has plans to work with the DOE, you'll want to familiarize yourself with these rules before you apply for or start work on a project.

Here's everything you should know when doing business with the Department of Energy as a contractor.

Regulations for DOE Contractors

When working with the DOE, contractors and the businesses that employ them will be subject to some specific regulations. Your company will need to complete a few steps before it can begin working for the DOE.

For example, it will probably need to obtain a DUNS number and register with SAM.gov. On the department's website, the DOE provides a bulleted list with resources designed to help small businesses get started with contracting. which can help you know what steps your business needs to take.

While working with the DOE, contractors and their workers will need to identify themselves as federal contractors, not federal employees. Similarly, any documentation or reports produced by a contractor should be clearly labeled so a general audience won't confuse it for a federal document. If there's any situation where a contractor could be misidentified as a federal employee — like in an email or press release — they should explicitly identify themselves.

DOE contractors will also need to provide their employees with the right equipment and training required to safely perform whatever project they may be working on. They are also responsible for identifying and reporting potential safety hazards if they are working in a government workplace.

Contractors must also inform subcontractors they work with of any requirements. They need to make sure they understand the DOE regulations they're bound by and how best to follow them. In some cases, contractors may also be responsible for providing subcontractors with necessary safety equipment.

With some special programs, like the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program, contractors will need to abide by additional regulations. Like the DOE, most of these programs publish their standards online and provide steps on how to get started as a contractor. 

Protections for DOE Contractor Employees

The DOE also provides specific protections for contractors that businesses will need to follow if they want to stay on good terms.

For example, DOE contract employees have the right to accompany department staff performing workplace inspections, express concerns related to worker protections and receive reports on accident investigations upon request.

Contractors working with the DOE will also need to design and implement safety protections for their employees that are up to the standards set in place by OSHA and the DOE. The full set of rules is quite long and features many different exceptions and use cases that may or may not apply to your specific business. 

If you find any part of these protections is unclear, the DOE has published a supplemental document that answers some frequently asked questions. However, this FAQ is also quite long and technical. If you plan on working with the DOE, you may want to seek advisement or work with a professional to find out what standards you will need to follow

The DOE also recently expanded protections for whistleblowers. They are designed to protect employees who want to alert the government to improper or unsafe conduct or operating procedures. If you are a contract employee working with the DOE, it may be worth reviewing these protections.

Working Successfully With the Department of Energy

Working with the DOE can be a great opportunity for small businesses with relevant expertise. However, contracting with a government department isn't quite like working with another private entity. There are special rules and regulations contractors will need to follow, as well as special protections they will need to provide for their employees.

DOE regulations and protections are publicly available on the internet. However, the language is technical, and it may be difficult to know exactly which standards you need to follow. Seeking outside expertise may be necessary if you want your business to comply with joint OSHA–DOE regulations.

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