At the beach earlier this week, my sister found herself on the receiving end of a delivery from a seagull -- much to her horror at the moment, and the amusement of everyone I've told the story to since.
After the load landed, and when she returned from a run down to the water, she rhetorically asked me what she could have done to deserve such an improbable indignity. It was a few hours later that another sister reminded her that, earlier in the afternoon, she'd been giving me some grief for my pasty white legs. (I work in accounting news; we don't get out into the sun too often in search of a story.)
The nature of karma has been wrestled with by many people -- Buddha is believed to have first contemplated its effects more than 2,000 years ago, and actor Jason Lee tackled it more recently for a season of "My Name is Earl." And I've got to believe that the Internal Revenue Service has asked itself "Why me?" at least a few times over the course of the past 10 days.
The agency's Washington headquarters, located at 1111 Constitution Ave., were hit by a flood of disastrous proportions the last weekend in June. In the logistical nightmare of relocating some 2,400 tax attorneys, law enforcement agents and administrative staff members to another dozen offices the agency has in the metro hours, it took a couple of days for an official press release to be issued. The news wasn't good.
The headquarters are expected to be closed for another month, and t otal damages are expected to run in the tens of millions of dollars. At least 20 feet of water flooded the building's subbasement, knocking out electrical systems and another five feet of water in the basement finished off workers' fitness center, food service canteens, offices, systems furniture, carpet, ceiling tiles, computer equipment and vehicles located on the level.
I know nothing of the exact area's topography or water tables, drainage systems or terrain, but I do know that the priceless artifacts housed just around the corner in the Museum of Natural History remained unscathed. T he headquarters for both the nearby Justice Department and National Archive, after a few days of repairs, were set to reopen later this week. A handful of other offices in the Federal Triangle lost just a day or two due to flooding.
Meanwhile, at the IRS, a clean-up and decontamination crew already completed their work last week, and two crews of about 50 people have been working around the clock, seven days a week, until the cleanup is complete.
No tax claims are processed out of the headquarters, so taxpayers shouldn't have to worry about lost paperwork, and the agency says that the tax system itself is still fully functional, but it can't have been that smooth. A few blogs have disseminated information from friends and business associates, saying that it took nearly a week for the IRS's e-mail server to resume functioning and only attorneys with Blackberries have access to the network. Other computer applications weren't yet available prior to the holiday, including saved work.
I'll stop short of suggesting that the IRS might have angered some higher power and been forced to bear the brunt of the damage so close to our nation's birthday party. In the past couple of weeks alone, the agency's offered further filing reprieves to hurricane victims, saved Treasury Secretary-to-be Henry Paulson from having to take a brutal hit from the taxman, and promoted a trio of ostensibly hard workers from within its ranks.
But if I'm IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, who is among the displaced, I've got to hope the taxes of a civilized society will provide better protection for my workplace for whatever natural disaster karma sends through metro Washington next.
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