Flooding displaces federal workers

Three federal government buildings will remain closed, or mostly closed, for up to several months because of flood damage from record-breaking storms in late June. Several thousand workers have been displaced.

Employees at the Internal Revenue Service headquarters are unlikely to return to their offices until the beginning of next year, officials announced Tuesday. More than 2,700 employees have been affected, leaving them to work from home, telework centers or at one of 13 other IRS offices in the D.C. metropolitan area.

The IRS is securing 150,000 square feet of furnished office space in Crystal City, in nearby Arlington, Va., for 800 of those workers. The General Services Administration, which oversees government buildings, already had the space and will extend the lease.

The National Archives officials had hoped to reopen this week, but will not.

Senior Justice Department officials have returned to their building, but most other Justice Department employees have been working in nearby offices.

Bart Bush, assistant GSA administrator for the Washington area, estimated that the cost of damage to the IRS building could run into the tens of millions of dollars.

“The average taxpayer will not feel any of this. Business will go on as normal,” said John Dalrymple, IRS deputy commissioner for operations support.

Because electrical and mechanical equipment was built specifically for the IRS building, GSA officials said they aren’t sure if they can make repairs or will have to order new equipment.

“All the rainwater flowed downhill from the north, and had no place to go once it hit Constitution Avenue. It was about 4 feet deep and went down the avenue in a wave trickling into basements,” Michael McGill, GSA spokesman, said.

McGill noted that Constitution Avenue, where all the buildings are, was once a canal used to transport goods throughout the city.

Washington got more than 11 inches of rain in a week last month, including a record-setting 7 inches in 24 hours June 25 and 26, according to the National Weather Service.

Three other nearby buildings that were damaged have mostly reopened. The Old Post Office and the Ariel Rios Building, which houses the Environmental Protection Agency and other offices, reopened July 3. About 70 EPA employees remain out of their basement offices. The Herbert C. Hoover Department of Commerce Building was closed only day.

The IRS and Justice Department buildings had extensive basement flooding, and it took three days for crews to pump the water out. The IRS basement and sub-basement were under 24 feet of water, while the Justice building’s basement was under 20 feet.

“We now have manufacturers of the mechanical and electrical equipment looking piece-by-piece to see whether repairs or replacement are warranted,” McGill said. “Then, we will have a more firm estimate of the time and cost.”

The National Archives Building could not reopen as planned because of ongoing repairs to its electric system, and there is no new target date, said Miriam Kleiman, a National Archives spokeswoman.

The rainfall knocked out electricity and left parts of the building under water. The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, which are stored in vaults in the building, were never in danger.

“Our main priority is that the archives are safe for visitors and that there is adequate and reliable electrical power,” said Marvin Pinkert, National Archives museum director.

Pinkert said electrical testing in the building began Monday. Kleiman said the process of restoring power is “gradual,” because workers must check all electrical equipment.

Dehumidifiers placed in the building immediately after the flooding helped lower humidity levels that rose after the power outage.

In past years, the National Archives has drawn an estimated 5,000 visitors a day during Independence Day Week. This year, about 500 visitors a day were limited to the Archives Exploration Tent, where they could see replicas of the “Charters of Freedom” and other objects. Merchandise from the National Archives shop is also available.

“If this is the one trip they make to Washington, to at least show them the images of what they would have seen inside is to do a service and we are pleased to do that,” Pinkert said.