I was reading the letter from Leonard Oursler, IRS, to Senators Wyden and Hatch and wondered where was the printed copy of Lois Lerner’s emails from 2009 through 2011. Here is what the document says on page 3:
In addition, if an email qualifies as an official record, per IRS policy, the email must be printed and placed in the appropriate file by the employee.
If Ms. Lerner was following IRS procedures then she should have printed a copy of every email that qualified as an official record whenever she moved it from the online storage to the archive. I am guessing that this is the IRS version of a redundant system backup.
Here is another question I have from the document. An email in this document dated June 13, 2011, says her disk drive crashed. If the emails from 2009 through 2011 are lost that implies that she archived them. Why did she archive the 2009 through 2011 emails so quickly? The only answer I can come up with is that she was automatically archiving the emails that are older than a month or two. If she followed this practice than it is unlikely she ever complied with the IRS procedures for printed copies and it explains why electronic discovery is so arduous since the online system contains only the last couple of months of emails. The IRS appears to have deliberately chosen an email retention policy that was prone to both error and abuse. Now they are complaining that searching for Lois Lerner’s emails is so difficult and expensive. I find their whining in the letter to be entertaining especially the part where they complain that more “than 250 IRS employees have spent over 120,000 hours on compliance”. All of these problems disappear if the IRS had chosen to operate a compliant email system in 2011. They have enough money for bonuses to IRS employees who are delinquent on their taxes but not enough money to meet email compliance requirements required by law. Maybe we should postpone all bonuses until they get compliant and fix the Ms. Lerner email problem. They own these problems.
This leads me to my last question. The Inspector General and GAO should have flagged this system as non-compliant. From an electronic discovery standpoint, this email system was born to fail. It is such a bad system you have to wonder why did the Inspector General and GAO look the other way?
For those into conspiracies you have to wonder whether Ms. Lerner knew that the IRS flagged groups with titles including “tea party,” “patriot,” and “9/12 project” for deeper review prior to June 29, 2011 and would likely cause a serious political scandal. This is pretty darn close to June 13 and in hindsight it looks like a very convenient time for a disk crash if you want to cover your tracks.
All of this talk about possible corruption at the IRS had me thinking about President Nixon. When I watch this clip and think about the IRS scandal, it is déjà vu all over again. Things are spiraling out of control at the IRS and they have no clue of the predicament they are in. Maybe Lois Lerner or Commissioner John Koskinen will make one more inadvertent remark and complete the circle.
Over at Fox News [Insider] it looks like Judge Andrew Napolitano and I arrived at the same conclusion, the IRS has willfully destroyed evidence. As an old IT guy I can confidently say that a disk drive crash will not delete emails stored in an Outlook/Exchange mail system. That leaves us with one possibility. Someone in the IRS deleted them. The rules for deleting emails were set up after the Iran Contra affair and require written permission from the archivist. For all practical purposes government emails are never legally deleted. If someone in the IRS deleted the emails then we have a federal crime. If the Administration believes that there is not a smidgen of corruption then the FBI should start an investigation immediately into the tampering with evidence crime and let the issue be decided in a non-partisan court. I am not sure we can restore the public’s respect for the IRS in my lifetime but this is a good first step on a long road.
The missing Lois Lerner emails is a hot subject. There are over 900 comments on the Washington Examiner article, Lois Lerner on IRS hard drive crash: ‘Sometimes stuff just happens’ . Obviously there are a lot of people annoyed with this excuse. The idea that the emails were lost in a disk drive crash rankles me so I joined the fray. I can understand where she may not have lost some of her Word or Excel documents but not her emails. Here is what I said:
To an old IT guy like me, recovering files is a completely different problem than recovering emails. It is my understanding that the IRS uses Outlook with Exchange servers as their email system. When you install Outlook on a new drive it creates a new copy of your mailbox with all of your emails. I literally have done this dozens of times. If she is missing files then we are probably talking about Excel and Word documents that were not emailed, saved on the server, or backed up by some other means. If there are missing emails in her mailbox then she deliberately deleted them and the IRS will have to find copies of them in the backups and archives.
Eventually the IRS and the Administration are going to have a Nixon moment in which they figure out that the cover-up is having bigger political repercussions than the original crime.
As an old IT guy I am slightly amused with the unfolding Lerner email scandal since I thought we had fixed these problems in the last century and the Inspector General did not catch this. Not surprisingly a PJMedia post has a former IRS IT specialist conveying doubt on this scenario. He confirms my guess that the IRS is using Microsoft’s Outlook/Exchange for email and that they have followed the generally accepted business practices for backing up and archiving the emails. For almost a decade I supported Microsoft’s Outlook/Exchange at our business so I have to conclude that if the emails are missing from her copy of Outlook then she deliberately deleted them to avoid prosecution. If they are missing from the backups and archives, she had help from someone in the IT department.
Here is what the former IRS IT specialist said in the post at PJMedia.
First, he points to the United States Code for government record retention. That code, 44 U.S.C. Chapter 33, governs what a government record is and requires that agencies must notify the Archivist of any records that are destroyed and the reasons for destroying them. The code was put into place after Iran-Contra to keep government workers and contractors from deleting records.
Section § 3309 states that records “pertaining to claims and demands by or against the Government of the United States or to accounts in which the Government of the United States is concerned, either as debtor or creditor, may not be disposed of by the head of an agency under authorization granted under this chapter, until the claims, demands, and accounts have been settled and adjusted in the General Accounting Office, except upon the written approval of the Comptroller General of the United States.”
“These environments were required by federal regulations to be redundant and recoverable,” the former IRS IT worker says. “The recoverability requirements were put into place for exactly the reasons we see today.” Disposal of records outside the statutory standards requires permission in writing.
He says that the IRS uses Microsoft Outlook/Exchange systems, which are backed up using Symantec NetBackup.
He also says that “the IRS is the cash cow of the federal government. When they ask for funding for anything it was granted without discussion.”
In the case of the prime contract and record retention, “The IRS IT projects were fully funded and never lacked for resources. To state ‘Backup tapes were reused after some short period’ is a complete joke. The IRS had thousands and thousands of tapes and ‘Virtual Tape Libraries’ (VTL or non-tape backups based on hard drive storage technologies). There was never a reason to reuse tapes.”
Indeed, the U.S. government has been getting out of the tape backup regime for years. The former IRS IT worker points to this ExaGrid document from 2011. In the document, ExaGrid discusses its work with the federal government to eliminate tape backups in favor of faster and more secure record retention systems.
ExaGrid specializes in disk-based records retention systems.
The former IRS IT worker adds that in his time on the prime contract, “I have worked for many federal agencies and the IRS had some of the best people.”
“This reason is why I scoff at the story being put out. Those folks would not have had such a short retention period for email unless they had it in writing from the highest levels. It would have made the local IT water cooler gossip if the IRS had screwed up and lost tons of email by accident.”
Yet the IRS claims that it lost the emails a year ago, and is only now telling congressional investigators.
The IRS reported on Friday that they “lost” former IRS manager Lois Lerner’s emails to and from other IRS employees sent between January of 2009 and April of 2011 due to a ‘computer crash’. This revelation bothers me on multiple levels. As an old IT guy the idea that an executive can lose emails due to a local disk drive failure in this century is mind boggling since we solved that problem in the last century. Since the court system has shown no tolerance for this type of criminal neglect by publicly traded businesses, I wonder what the courts and the Inspector General will say about this practice. It is hard for me to believe that this practice would not raise an audit flag on the Inspector General’s report.
As an old IT guy this excuse has me laughing out loud! 😆 The most common corporate email system, Exchange, is host based. Some businesses and government agencies have switched to Gmail and it is host based, too. In all of my years in the IT business I have never run across an email system that was susceptible to a local disk drive failure. This makes no sense! Why would anyone put in a system that stupid? This would require a level of incompetence I have trouble imagining.