A water line leak that began Tuesday at the Suitland Federal Center has forced the shutdown of most of the facility's air-conditioning system, inconveniencing more than 5,000 federal employes.

Desert Dry Waterproofing Co. was excavating a wall to install waterproofing at the General Services Administration's air-conditioning plant when earth shifted and caused a 30-inch pipe joint to begin leaking about 5:30 p.m.

"We had to shut down the air-conditioning unit to prevent damage to the system," said Charles Polinger, GSA's regional air-conditioning operations manager.

Repairs will cost less than $2,000, he said.

With the air conditioning off, fans were used to mitigate the heat.

None of the employes were sent home, according to Norman Branca, GSA Suitland buildings manager.

"It's murder in here," said James Gorman, chief of public affairs for the Census Bureau, one of the largest occupants of the Federal Center, with about 3,600 employes. "We have a liberal annual leave policy in effect -- if anyone wants to go home, they can without a hassle."

Gorman, who said it was "near 90" inside with the windows open yesterday, said none of the agency's valuable and sensitive computer tapes and equipment was endangered because back-up systems were working in some areas of the building.

Rodgers Stewart, a GSA buildings management official in the agency's regional office, said the system should be back on line by Saturday at the latest.

Other agencies at the center include the Naval Intelligence Command, the National Archives and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.