Feds displaced by flooding offered use of telework centers

The flood-related closure of the Internal Revenue Service's headquarters building in downtown Washington has prompted the General Services Administration to offer all federal agencies facing similar short-term emergency situations free use of its telework centers.

Any employee from an agency that is not already a client of the 14 GSA Washington Metropolitan Telework Centers, who has been displaced because of a flooded building, is eligible for the offer at no cost, GSA announced.

Employees at agencies that already are clients are eligible to increase the number of days they use the centers, also at no cost. The facilities are located in Washington, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

In announcing the offer, GSA officials said they hope some of the displaced employees will continue to use the telework centers -- which are outfitted with computers, high-speed Internet access, telephones, printers and other resources -- as paying clients once their buildings reopen. But agencies are not obligated to become paying clients.

To sign up, employees must have their supervisors complete a form authorizing the use of the center for work purposes.

Linda Whitmer, executive director of the Washington Metropolitan Telework Centers, said only 57 percent of the organization's office space is used during an average week. It's unfortunate that the free offer could not have been arranged faster, she said.

"Perhaps we now have a precedent set, and when something happens like this again we can put the offer right out there," Whitmer said.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, GSA offered free use of its telework centers to all federal employees through the end of 2005 as a means of offsetting rising gas prices.

The IRS building at 1111 Constitution Ave. N.W. is expected to remain closed through at least the end of July as a result of significant flooding last week causing tens of millions of dollars in damage, including electrical outages and extensive damage to the building's infrastructure, office furniture and supplies.

The sub-basement of the building, which holds electrical equipment, was submerged in more than 20 feet of water, according to the IRS. The building's basement was flooded with five feet of water, damaging a fitness center, restaurants, offices, carpet, ceiling tiles, computer equipment and vehicles parked in the building's garage.

The 2,400 employees who work in the building have been relocated to the 12 other IRS buildings in the metropolitan area and other temporary office space, and some will be allowed to telecommute, the IRS said.

The Justice Department building at 950 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. also sustained heavy damage from last week's heavy rain that left the building closed through Wednesday. According to a spokesman, the building's 1,400 employees were being moved back in Thursday and Friday.

Another 300 employees working out of the National Archives and Records Administration building at 700 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. were displaced by flooding. Essential employees were asked to report to an Archives building in College Park, Md., or to telecommute, according to agency spokeswoman Miriam Kleiman.

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