The Internal Revenue Service has announced that it lost 2 years’ worth of Lois Lerner’s emails…you know, the same Lois Lerner who is currently facing Contempt of Congress charges for her refusal to testify to Congress regarding the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups in the lead-up to the 2012 election.
Just a few days later, the IRS announced that they can’t find emails from six other employees involved in the same scandal.
What does this mean?
The IRS was negligent in preserving records – probably criminally so.
The IRS hosts its own Exchange server, and while they apparently kept 6 months of data on a tape backup, which is good for disaster recovery purposes, they had no operational method for ensuring that IRS employees were complying with IRS policy (and federal law), which requires that any email which fits into their definition of an “official record” be preserved in hard-copy…probably to prevent exactly this kind of thing from happening. According to IRS policy, this includes all emails “[c]reated or received in the transaction of agency business,” “appropriate for preservation as evidence of the government’s function or activities,” or “valuable because of the information they contain.”
BUT, since the IRS had no operational method to ensure that employees complied with this policy, it was up to individual IRS employees to determine which of their emails fit within the policy requirements. We already know for a fact that Lois Lerner was corresponding with the Justice Department and Congressman Elijah Cummings, yet she seems to have conveniently forgotten to print out and save her emails related to the targeting of conservatives, despite the fact that they obviously would have been “created or received in the transaction of agency business,” as well as being “appropriate for preservation as evidence of the government’s function or activities.”
If any company or government agency has a policy like this but no means to enforce or ensure compliance of that policy, then it doesn’t really have a policy. All it takes to lose information that could be vital to a future criminal investigation is for employees to not follow the policy…leaving the tape backup as a six-month de facto statute of limitations on collection of that vital evidence. What’s more, if an IRS employee is about to engage in questionable or criminal behavior, you can bet your bottom dollar that they aren’t going to print out copies of the emails that could land them behind bars.
But this is more than a matter of IRS policy, it is a matter of law, under the Federal Records Act. If individual IRS employees were responsible for compliance under IRS policy, this makes one more crime that Lerner is facing…but whomever is responsible for developing and implementing records management policies at the IRS should definitely be thrown under the bus, as well. Had the law been followed, no “computer crash” could possibly have destroyed this vital evidence.
But apparently, the IRS and the White House think we’re all dumb enough to fall for it.
Categories: IRS Scandal