The power went out Monday in at least half of the Education Department headquarters building in downtown Washington — and it is not expected to come back anytime soon in some areas.
An email sent to employees by the department’s office of management said “a switchgear failure from water infiltration” during construction on the nearby memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower caused the power to fail on the entire east side of the building.
The Education Department’s press office did not respond to an inquiry about the power outage. It also did not respond to queries about how many people work in the building or how many people were affected, and did not respond to a report that the office suite of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was operating on power from a generator.
“The damage is extensive and parts are unlikely to be readily available due to the age of the equipment,” the email said.
The building, at 400 Maryland Ave. SW, is due for major renovations. Built in 1959, it has 640,332 square feet, though only 386,635 square feet is usable, according to the Washington Business Journal. The renovation is expected to cost about $32.5 million and will allow officials to use more of the available space.
Several employees said on Monday that they showed up to work and found that power was out for at least the third time since the beginning of summer. Employees reported sitting in their offices with no lights, some of them working on laptops with battery power. Bathrooms with no windows were dark, and the odor of food spoiling in refrigerators could be detected, employees reported.
One employee, who spoke with The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak with the media, wrote, “My area has power to outlets, but not lights, so our phones and computers work, but we’re sitting in the dark.”
The email from the office of management also said some key workers and those who hadn’t arrived yet should be allowed to “remain offsite and telework from their remote location.”
In May, the Education Department told workers that telecommuting privileges were being reduced and that the agency was limiting the number of days employees could work from home. President Barack Obama’s administration encouraged the practice, but DeVos changed the policy. Employees had until the middle of last month to sign up to work from home one day a week, with the change taking effect in October.