Justice Dept., Archives and IRS to Stay Shuttered Rest of Week

By Paul Schwartzman and Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The downtown D.C. headquarters of the Justice Department, Internal Revenue Service and National Archives will remain closed for the rest of the week because of damage wrought by Sunday's torrential downpour, officials said yesterday.

As emergency workers braced for more rain and pumped out flooded basements, the archives brought in industrial-size dehumidifiers to protect its historical documents and papers from page-curling mildew.

"There's no damage," said Susan Cooper, an archives spokesman. The Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, which are in protective cases, were never at risk, she said.

Nearly two days after the region's first deluge, at least four government offices in the Federal Triangle remained shut, including the Old Post Office building and the Ariel Rios Federal Building. The Commerce Department, at 15th Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, reopened yesterday after closing Monday.

Even with the closures, most of the federal government's Washington offices were open yesterday, officials said.

"The bottom line is that there are more federal employees in town working than have been told not to come in because of various problems," said Mike Orenstein, a spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management.

At Justice Department headquarters, at Ninth Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, crews pumped water from the subbasement and parking garage and worked to repair the seven-story building's electrical and air-conditioning systems.

Officials plan to keep the building shut for the next three days and possibly as many as seven, according to an e-mail sent to reporters by the General Services Administration late yesterday.

The nearly 2,000 employees assigned to the building were scattered elsewhere, some at offices a few blocks away. Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice spokesman, declined to specify the location for security reasons.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzalez is in the Middle East for the rest of the week on a scheduled trip. "The Department of Justice is fully operational and able to carry out its essential functions," Roehrkasse said.

The rain flooded the basement and subbasement at the IRS, at 11th Street NW and Constitution Avenue NW, damaging the building's air-conditioning and electrical systems.

Terry Lemons, the agency's chief spokesman, declined to set a date for the building's reopening, saying, "We'll continue assessing the situation.

"We have not had a situation like this in 20 years," he said, speaking from his home in Northern Virginia. "The building sustained significant damage in the basement. Before we can open, we need to have our electrical system and air conditioning working."

Lemons said he did not know how many of the 2,400 employees assigned to the building were working. But he said: "We're continuing our tax administration work. The tax system continues to operate."

At the National Archives, crews worked to repair a subbasement transformer that had been submerged in eight feet of water, knocking out the electricity and air conditioning. Officials plan to keep the building, on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, closed through Monday. The archives will host its annual Fourth of July ceremony on the front steps, but the public will not be allowed inside.

Yesterday, dozens of tourists arriving at the archives were turned away by a handwritten sign taped to a garbage can telling them that flooding had closed the building.

Justin James, 10, of Frankfort, Ky., had hoped for a peek at the Constitution.

"I was going to show pictures to my friends. Now, they're not going to believe I saw it," he told his mom before heading to the International Spy Museum, which was open and dry.

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