By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
The Internal Revenue Service headquarters will remain at least partially closed until January while department officials attempt to repair tens of millions of dollars in damage wrought by last month's storms, the IRS announced yesterday.
The full extent of the damage to the building at 1111 Constitution Ave. NW is still being assessed, said John Dalrymple, IRS deputy commissioner for operations support. Three million gallons of water flooded parts of the building's basement and sub-basement during the deluge, ruining air-conditioning equipment and much of the electrical system as well as furniture, flooring and walls.
The main reason it is taking so long to get the building functioning again is that replacement equipment has to be ordered, said Bart Bush, an administrator with the public buildings division of the General Services Administration.
About 2,400 IRS employees usually work in the building, including top officials such as IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson, tax attorneys, law enforcement agents and administrative staff. The headquarters does not process tax claims.
"Taxpayers should not feel this transition at all," Dalrymple said. "I don't have any indication that any of our operational activities should be impacted. All audits, all collection activities, all tax processes should go on as normal."
All IRS employees whose work is considered critical returned to work by the end of last week, Dalrymple said, and all headquarters employees should be working within the next few days. More than 800 will work out of leased offices at Crystal Plaza in Arlington, while others will report to the IRS's 12 satellite offices in the D.C. region. Many employees have been working from home since the June 25 storm, and some will continue to do so until they are allowed back into the Constitution Avenue building.
"Clearly, we had people who were out of the office for a week or two weeks or three weeks, but the critical work was identified," Dalrymple said. "Our continuity of operations plans worked quite well."
Employees said the transition proceeded relatively smoothly, although some have faced communication difficulties stemming from having people from one division scattered among different offices.
Most people cannot access their IRS e-mail accounts from home, and employees cannot work from home on projects governed by confidentiality rules stipulating that they be viewed only from secure computers in an IRS office. Many employees working from home were issued IRS computers that contain taxpayers' personal information in encrypted form.
Dalrymple said that the department's headquarters housed only limited computer equipment, all of which was recovered within the first day after the building flooded. Important IRS file storage backup drives have been moved to its New Carrollton office, he said.
As heavy rains began last month, deep wells called moats that make the building's windows inaccessible from the sidewalk filled with water. Water pressure broke windows on the building's lower floors, and more water poured in through the entrance from the building's parking garage. Initial assessments indicated that repairs to the building would take a month or less, but water pumps were unable to clear standing water before it caused extensive damage, Bush said.
Bush added that the estimated repair cost could change significantly as officials continue to assess the damage. If some equipment can be repaired rather than replaced, employees could return to the building much sooner than January, officials said.
Once the assessment is finished and repair work begins, staff members are expected to move back into the building in waves over the next several months.