Employees report to work despite standoff in downtown Washington

Employees in federal buildings located near the National Mall in Washington went to work Tuesday despite a standoff between law enforcement officers and a man who drove a tractor into a shallow pool near the Vietnam Memorial.

On Monday, a North Carolina tobacco farmer, identified as Dwight Watson, 50, drove a tractor emblazoned with slogans supporting veterans and the military, into a pond in Constitution Gardens, just east of the Vietnam Memorial and between the Reflecting Pool and Constitution Avenue. Law enforcement officers are not sure of his motives, but believe he may be carrying explosives.

The National Academy of Sciences, Federal Reserve Board and the South Annex of the Interior Department remained open to essential employees on Tuesday, after the General Services Administration and the Office of Personnel Management gave the agencies the option to close until the confrontation ended. Nonessential employees were not required to report to work.

South-facing offices in the first wing of the Interior Department's main building were closed except to essential employees because they look out on the standoff, according to spokesman Frank Quimby. No mail was delivered to the main Interior building on Tuesday, Quimby added.

The State Department, most of the main Interior Department building and OPM were open to all employees, but workers had to come by foot because cars weren't allowed near the buildings, according to an OPM statement. Employees who were unable to get to work without driving, or who were delayed by the traffic congestion resulting from the incident, were allowed to take unscheduled leave.

Though the incident caused some confusion with respect to parking and access to buildings, it did not cause too much disruption at federal facilities overall, according to spokesmen at the affected agencies.

Local law enforcement officers, in conjunction with the FBI, are handling the situation appropriately, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said during a briefing about his department's efforts to protect the United States against possible terrorist strikes in retaliation for the likely war with Iraq.

Police closed several main roads to secure the perimeter around the pool, causing traffic jams. Constitution Avenue was closed from 15th to 23rd Streets, N.W., and the area south of E Street between 17th and 23rd streets N.W. was also closed.

Employees at the affected federal buildings should call their human resources departments for further information and updates on when they should to return to the office, according to OPM.

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