Latest Twist in the IRS Scandal Reveals The IRS Had an Awful Email Policy

If you believe the IRS when they said a good chunk of Lois Lerner's emails were vaporized due to a computer crash, you are probably also the type who believes you are the last living heir to a Nigerian prince and the lucky 1,000,000th visitor to a website.

Maybe this excuse would seem plausible in 1995 but now that your phone has more storage capacity than the computer you owned 15 years ago, it seems a bit ridiculous of the IRS to use a space-saving process for emails that basically makes them disappear after a short period of time:

Prior to the eruption of the IRS controversy last spring, the IRS had a policy of backing up the data on its email server (which runs Microsoft Outlook) every day. It kept a backup of the records for six months on digital tape, according to a letter sent from the IRS to Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). After six months, the IRS would reuse those tapes for newer backups. So when Congressional committees began requesting emails from the agency, its records only went back to late 2012.

IRS Commish John Koskinen initially told a congressional firing squad that the emails were stored in agency archives but that turned out to be incorrect. Give him a break; he's the commissioner, not Nick Burns the IRS' Computer Guy.

In her Bloomberg View column today, Megan McArdle writes that while the missing emails are "plausible," the story is also "moronic."

Is this plausible? Unfortunately, yes. I have worked for organizations that used these sorts of restrictions on hard drive space.

However, it’s also moronic IT policy. Hard drive space has been dirt cheap for more than a decade. The IRS's policies on e-mail storage were primitive even by the standards of 15 years ago, when I was working as a technology consultant. At that time, it was bog standard policy at every office I worked at, including small businesses, to regularly pull a set of backup tapes out of rotation — once a week at financial firms, once a month at smaller businesses with less regulatory overhead, once every three months for the truly cash-strapped — and stash it in a vault in case you needed to recover something later. It should not have been possible for the IRS to lose more than a few days — at most a few weeks — of Lois Lerner’s e-mail. Unfortunately, the IRS only started storing its backup tapes last year, long after the scandal broke.

Also at issue, at least according to House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, is that the IRS didn't ring him up and say "hey Dave, problem. Those emails? We kind of can't find them."

Camp notes that the IRS decided to "bury" the claim of lost emails "deep in an unrelated letter on a Friday afternoon." He isn't kidding. It appears on the 15th page of the document, which is actually the seventh page of the first attachment to an eight-page letter, addressed to Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Orrin Hatch of Utah, respectively chairman and ranking Republican of the Senate Finance Committee.

What I want to know is… how is it possible to recover kiddie porn from some pervert's intentionally ruined hard drive but the IRS can't find these Lerner emails?

McArdle continues:

In short, yes, there is an innocent explanation: An accident combined with a really bad e-mail storage policy to wipe out critical records. There’s also a semi-innocent explanation, where really bad storage policy could have enabled Lerner to arrange a hard drive accident that destroyed incriminating e-mails before she had to respond to Camp’s initial letter. I find the innocent explanation much more plausible than a conspiracy, or even the semi-innocent explanation — even assuming that she was conspiring with the White House, why bother with the elaborate schemes when you could just send your incriminating e-mails from an outside account?

But that still leaves me really concerned about the terrible policy decisions. The timing of the data loss is incredibly suspicious, and the IRS has left itself completely unable to answer those suspicions with anything better than a shrug. It should expect — in fact, it should request — a thorough outside investigation of this incident, but even the most scrupulous audit will not be able to entirely quell the worry that the IRS enabled a rogue agent to get away with destroying evidence.

Surely the IRS didn't anticipate any of this would matter or they would have gotten with the times years ago. Now they've got every foamy-mouthed right wing blowhard crying conspiracy all because of an extremely outdated email policy. Good work, guys.

Related articles