IRS Now Says It Has Lost Emails From Six More Accounts Tied To The Investigation Of Its Targeting Of Tax-Exempt Groups

by Tim Cushing
Jun. 19, 2014

The IRS recently blamed a "computer crash" for the disappearance of two years of email correspondence involving Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of the controversy surrounding the agency's apparent targeting of certain non-profit groups (Tea Party, Occupy, open source).

Apparently, this computer crash also destroyed any backups of the email between Lerner's office and outside government agencies, along with the hard copy backups IRS employees are required to maintain as part of its public records obligations. The latter part of that hasn't been specifically denied, but it's assumed no one's rounding up email printouts at the moment. As is the new Standard Operating Procedure for Grandstanding, a Congressman has demanded the NSA hand over the metadata on the missing Lerner emails.

Now, it appears that Lois Lerner's computer crash was only part of a much larger series of well-timed computer crashes.
The Internal Revenue Service says it can't produce e-mails from six more employees involved in the targeting of conservative groups, according to two Republicans investigating the scandal.

The IRS recently informed Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp and subcommittee chairman Charles Boustany that computer crashes resulted in additional lost e-mails, including from Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to former IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who was fired in the wake of the targeting scandal.
The question is still: conspiracy or colossal screwup?

Certainly the fact that emails and accounts directly related to the investigation are missing data from the crucial 2009-2011 period does make it look like the agency's hiding something. But the possibility that this is can be chalked up to regular government ineptitude is never too far away.

As was noted earlier (in the IRS's own documentation no less), the agency uses Microsoft Outlook and Exchange, which would suggest that further backups exist, as does (again) the IRS's own statements. John Hinderaker at Power Line quotes the IRS on its backup processes.
For disaster recovery purposes, the IRS does a daily back-up of its email servers. Prior to May 2013, these backups were retained on tape for six months, and then for cost efficiency, the back-up tapes were released for re-use. In May of last year, the IRS changed its policy and began storing rather than recycling its backup tapes.
This means that older backups no longer exist, at least anything "taped over" prior to the change of policy. One wonders why the agency was allowed to recycle backups when much of what's being backed up is subject to public records laws. But to make the situation even worse, the IRS greatly restricted the number of emails each employee could retain.
Currently, the average individual employee's email box limit is 500 megabytes, which translates to approximately 6,000 emails. Prior to July 2011, the limit was lower, 150 megabytes or roughly 1,800 emails.
As Hinderaker points out, someone in Lerner's position could run through that allotment in just a few days, meaning she would most likely begin archiving them to her own computer, something that could actually destroy emails when it crashed.

But this doesn't excuse the missing email, although it does help explain it. As the IRS's own policies note, archiving email to local storage is not an adequate solution and does not comply with public records regulations. So, Lerner and the six others affected should have had hard copy printouts of every email that could possibly be considered a relevant public record. Apparently, they don't and it's highly unlikely that many IRS officials take this Luddic requirement seriously.

Even with this additional information, the coverup theory isn't completely dispelled. One computer crash nuking vital emails is unfortunate. Six computers all taking out relevant email from a specific time period goes far past coincidental. The fact that the IRS hid this from the investigatory committee for months before finally "revealing" it on page 15 of a 27-page letter lends more credence to those who feel there's been a concerted effort to keep information buried. It also should be noted that the IRS itself has not stepped up and explained how something like this could happen (other than saying "computer crash"). Anything pertaining to the IRS's regrettable backup "solutions" and absurdly tiny email storage has been uncovered by the research of others. So, until the agency has anything further to add, the scale remains perfectly balanced between "malice" and "stupidity."

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