A review of the Internal Revenue Service’s response to the flooding of its national headquarters in the summer of 2007 has found that the displacement of the office’s 2,200 employees had no measurable impact on taxpayers and tax administration.The report, from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, attributed that result to the nature of the work performed at the site, as well as the contingency plans the IRS had in place -- but did note ways to cut down on more than $4 million of salary costs associated with the natural disaster.

Torrential rains closed the building beginning in June, after an estimated 5.5 million gallons of water flooded the building’s basement and sub-basement, causing extensive damage to electrical equipment and air handlers. In mid-July, the agency announced that the office -- which housed hundreds of tax attorneys, law enforcement agents and administrative staff -- wouldn’t reopen until early 2007.

Headquarters staffers are involved with strategy, program planning and monitoring, as well as other activities that do not require a significant amount of day-to-day contact with taxpayers. Immediately following the flooding, the workers were scattered across 15 other buildings in the metro Washington area, including a centralized office in New Carrollton, Md., where officials worked to direct recovery and business resumption activities, coordinate administrative issues, track costs and arrange temporary work space for displaced personnel.

The TIGTA report listed just two suggestions that the IRS may find useful in preparing for, and responding to, future emergencies.

First, the report suggested increasing the availability of laptop computers for telecommuting, so that more IRS personnel could continue working during emergencies. Many IRS personnel who were displaced by the flood were either unable to telecommute, or unable to do so effectively, which resulted in granting IRS personnel approximately 101,000 hours of administrative leave (excused absence from work with no loss of pay) that may have otherwise lowered the $4.2 million of salary costs associated with the leave.

Second, TIGTA suggested that the IRS complete a comprehensive assessment that captures the overall successes and lessons learned in responding to and recovering from the flood to provide a future roadmap.

Damage estimates as of September 2006 show the General Services Administration and the IRS expect to spend approximately $54 million to repair equipment and restore the building to a safe and usable condition. The headquarters reopened in mid-December.

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