Nearly a month into a round-the-clock cleanup effort after torrential rains flooded its Washington headquarters, the Internal Revenue Service said that the office -which houses some 2,700 workers - won't reopen until early next year."It's become very apparent that we're not going to be able to reoccupy the building until the first of the year," IRS deputy commissioner of operations support John Dalrymple said during a conference call in mid-July.
A deluge in the Washington metro area over the weekend of June 24 and 25 left the sub-basement and basements of IRS headquarters at 1111 Constitution Ave. submerged in more than 25 feet of water. An assistant regional administrator for the General Services Administration's Public Buildings Service, Bart Bush, said that more than 190 facilities in the area had been affected, and that the Federal Triangle area was particularly hard hit.
Bush said that an estimated 3 million gallons of water were pumped out of the building over four days in late June, and that the first complete cleaning, decontamination and stabilization of the building was completed in early July. All of the damaged equipment, office furniture and supplies stored in the building's basement, as well as the drywall, had been completely removed, but it will take approximately a month before the infrastructure completely dries and rebuilding work can begin.
"There was major damage both to our electrical and our heating and our air conditioning systems," reported Terry Lemons, senior spokesman for the IRS. "We have some classrooms down there, and we have some storage. Basically all of the drywall and everything else had to be ripped out. The damage is going to run into the tens of millions of dollars." The IRS employee fitness center was also destroyed in the flooding, as was the cafeteria.
At press time, the IRS was still waiting for final engineering reports.
Dalrymple said that the flooding was caused by the building's moats becoming filled to capacity during the torrential downpour, and the corresponding water pressure caused several of the office's lower-level windows to break. That, coupled with the facilities' pumps struggling to keep up with the water that had already entered the sub-basement and run-off water from parking garage entrances, led to the disaster.
Dalrymple said that the chief cause of the lengthy delay to get back into the building is because of the lead time required to order specialized equipment such as air compressors, circuit breakers, and primary and secondary lines directly from manufacturers. The hope is for some employees to be returned in stages to the building earlier.
The headquarters' some 2,500 tax attorneys, law enforcement agents and administrative staff have been shifted to another dozen offices that the agency has in the metro area, more than 800 have been moved to temporary space at the Crystal Plaza, and many more are working from home for the time being. Dalrymple said that critical employees experienced very little disruption to their work schedules, and that the few workers not already back to work status are on their way
"The average taxpayer should not feel this at all," Dalrymple said. "We're a very decentralized office [in many respects]. Return processing, audits, rulings - all of those functions will continue as normal."
The IRS has had work-disruption contingency plans in place since the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"We have a secure telecommuting set-up through a system called ERAP," explained Lemons. ERAP stands for the Enterprise Remote Access Project virtual private network that was designed for the IRS by AT&T. The system provides employees in remote locations, as well as those working at home, access to IRS network resources. The ERAP system provides protection for sensitive taxpayer information, according to Lemons.
"All of our business units have business resumption plans," he explained. "We've kicked all of those into place." He said that his media communications and liaison group has been relocated to a facility in New Carrollton, Md., on the northeast side of Washington. "They dropped phone lines for us, they put in new desktops once we realized this was going to be longer than just a week or two."
Lemons' commute to his new work venue is now two-and-a-half hours in each direction, but he's not complaining. "I'm spending five hours a day commuting," said Lemons. "What we keep thinking about is we've got extra commuting time, but at least we've got another place where we can work. Our jobs aren't in jeopardy. You look back at all that was going on with Hurricane Katrina last year - people face much more serious situations than what we've gone through. You have to keep it in perspective."
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