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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 11/18/2010

Power outages, fires plaguing federal buildings

By Ed O'Keefe


The Herbert C. Hoover Building, a.k.a. the Commerce Department headquarters, is in downtown Washington, D.C. (File)

Eye Opener

The work's getting done, but the lights keep going out at the Commerce Department's headquarters in downtown Washington -- the latest of several problems at some of the region's federal buildings.

Rooms in two sections of the massive Herbert C. Hoover Building on Constitution Ave. NW went dark Wednesday for the fourth time in nine days.

An outage last week forced an early dismissal for some workers, according to a tipster. The outages are also impacting a computer network linked to other parts of the building, the tipster said.

Power was quickly restored Wednesday and the outages have impacted only 250 of the building's 3,000 workers, according to a department spokeswoman. Officials continue to inform workers about the outages and are asking the General Services Administration -- which owns and operates most federal buildings -- to address the problem.

The Hoover building is undergoing a massive, years-long renovation that is forcing workers into temporary swing space. A fire last month on the building's third floor required the department to excuse hundreds of workers for a day.

But Commerce isn't the only department suffering from troubled infrastructure: Faulty fire alarms last week forced an early dismissal for workers at one of the Agriculture Department's three main buildings near the Mall. An electrical fire also damaged a USDA building last month in Riverdale. Bed bugs have infiltrated USAID offices in the Ronald Reagan Building and continue to infest offices of the Department of Health and Human Services in Rockville. EPA employees at the agency's downtown headquarters also regularly complain about cold air seeping through drafty windows.

Know of similar problems in your government office building? Leave your comments below.

Question of the Week: The bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform has introduced a series of ideas to cut the federal deficit, including federal workforce-related proposals ranging from increasing health insurance fees, to freezing salaries and bonuses for three years, to trimming the workforce by 10 percent by 2020. What do you think of the proposals and federal employees being asked to sacrifice? E-mail your thoughts to federalworker@washpost.com and please include your name and hometown. We may use your thoughts in Friday's Post.

Cabinet and Staff News: President Obama is still pushing on passage of START treaty (and phoned Sen. Carl Levin Wednesday to express continued support for passing a defense authorization bill that includes repeal of "don't ask, don't tell.") Vice President Biden boasts curbs to economic stimulus fraud. TSA Administrator John S. Pistole says he's had "thorough" airport security pat-downs. The infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner may one day hang at George W. Bush's library.

FDA:
FDA, FTC crack down on caffeinated alcoholic drinks: They warned manufacturers of the increasingly popular but dangerous beverages that the products are illegal.

STATE DEPARTMENT:
Obama administration drafting letter for Netanyahu: It details understandings recently reached between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Israeli prime minister.

TSA:

TSA agent punched in chest by passenger: A passenger was arrested Tuesday for punching the agent in the chest after passing through a body-imaging machine at Indianapolis International Airport, police said.

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS:
VA loses and recovers unencrypted thumb drive: A claims examiner used a personal unencrypted thumb drive to store records on veterans that included Social Security numbers and then lost the drive.

Follow The Federal Eye on Twitter | Submit your news tips here

By Ed O'Keefe  | November 18, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Comments

HUD has been declared a sick building, with mold and air quality issues. Plans are underway to renovate, but it's not clear how a floor by floor renovation (instead of addressing the entire building at once) will address air quality and outdated filtration issues.

Posted by: ltyahoo | November 18, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

HUD is a sick building? AHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

The housing guys, the guys who are supposed to tell everyone else how to live, can't maintain a single building.

Wow.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | November 18, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

The Minneapolis Main Post Office in downtown Minneapolis,Mn has had problems with mold and water leaking inside for many YEARS now. Their solution? Put a bucket and tarp under the drips to catch the water so it doesn't damage the equipment. Don't worry about the fact that employees have been exposed to mold for years! Oh well that's the government for ya!!!!!! (Oh by the way OSHA does know about it!!)

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Posted by: itkonlyyou382 | November 18, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: ottowheat | November 18, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

There are many fed buildings with lots of maintenance problems. I am a building manager in a fed agency (whom shall be nameless). This is the problem when you have restricted budgets and cutbacks of personnel to upkeep buildings. Our agency is critcally low on maintenance staff. CRs dont help and maintenance must always be deferred because the money and manpower just isnt there. Some agencies hire contractors to perform maintenance on their buildings instead of having in house workers. When a CR kicks in toppled with budget cuts, a contractors scope of work in to the new FY gets cut. Forget hiringa contractor to do that big leak or mold abatement job. Even with in house workers, the money and time to do special projects cant be done because they have just enough people to keep the building running. So while our republican congress wants smaller govt, the dessimate our ability to maintain buildings because the dessimate the budget and hiring. It all comes full circle.

Posted by: IGotLotsToSay | November 19, 2010 4:44 AM | Report abuse

There are many fed buildings with lots of maintenance problems. I am a building manager in a fed agency (whom shall be nameless). This is the problem when you have restricted budgets and cutbacks of personnel to upkeep buildings. Our agency is critcally low on maintenance staff. CRs dont help and maintenance must always be deferred because the money and manpower just isnt there. Some agencies hire contractors to perform maintenance on their buildings instead of having in house workers. When a CR kicks in toppled with budget cuts, a contractors scope of work in to the new FY gets cut. Forget hiringa contractor to do that big leak or mold abatement job. Even with in house workers, the money and time to do special projects cant be done because they have just enough people to keep the building running. So while our republican congress wants smaller govt, they dessimate our ability to maintain buildings because the dessimate the budget and hiring. It all comes full circle.

Posted by: IGotLotsToSay | November 19, 2010 4:45 AM | Report abuse

OOOPs..sorry...computer got locked up and now there are 2 entries! Might I also add that often power outages like at the Hoover building can occur because switchgear needs to be replaced, which drives the power throughout the buildings in blocks of areas often, and that is a HUGE job that costs HUGE money and takes a HUGE coordinated effort and chances are has been tabled because of cutbacks or noone can find the best window to get it done. Weekend and midnight work costs double..so there you have it.

Posted by: IGotLotsToSay | November 19, 2010 4:50 AM | Report abuse

I spent 38 years with GSA, much of it in high places in Public Buildings Service. I'm retired now and I don't know the current construction or repair allocations but I can say without contradiction that the Treasury could not print or borrow enough money to bring all federal buildings to a proper state of repair and energy compliance. It is a fact of life which gets more pronounced each year given the national budget priorities. In a book I just wrote, Confessions of a Government Man, I eloquently state that Members of Congress like like to have their pictures taken at groundbreakings for new buildings in their districts. Demolition and plumbing repair projects do not make for great photo ops.

Posted by: oakman26 | November 19, 2010 8:18 PM | Report abuse

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