“Effective immediately upon receipt of this notice, you are required to keep any hard drives and related data associated with a computer hard drive failure.”
That’s the e-mail order that came down to IRS IT officials on Monday morning, according to a copy of the message obtained by National Review Online.
The order, however, applies only to five IRS offices: those in Dallas, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; Hartford, Connecticut; Montgomery, Alabama; and Seattle Washington. Damaged hard drives in all other offices will continue to be destroyed, according to an IRS IT employee.
“The IRS is afflicted with a culture of obstruction and the continued destruction of hard drives is further proof of this,” says representative Ron DeSantis (R, Fla.), a member of the House Oversight Committee, which has been investigating the agency’s targeting of conservative groups for over a year now. “Now that two federal judges are demanding answers, it looks like the IRS is trying to avoid legal jeopardy by maintaining minimal retention requirements.”
The IRS’s latest action comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the organization Judicial Watch, which filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the release of e-mails from former IRS official Lois Lerner and several other employees whose correspondence, the agency has said, may have been destroyed. In a hearing on Thursday, a federal judge ordered the IRS to explain how it lost two years’ worth of Lerner’s correspondence with employees at other federal agencies.
The Justice Department, in response to the lawsuit, “has requested IRS to issue a litigation hold notice for these offices pending resolution of the case,” the IRS’s chief information officer for user and network services, Anne Shepherd, wrote the agency’s IT employees.
The revelation that a hard drive crash destroyed Lerner’s e-mails, documents sought both by Judicial Watch and by congressional committees investigating the scandal, have in recent months revived the controversy surrounding the targeting scandal. Some Republican members of the Oversight Committee have even suggested that when Lerner discovered Congress was looking into the inappropriate targeting of conservative groups, she crashed her own computer in an attempt to protect herself.
But above all, the revelation has thrown the agency’s shoddy record-keeping practices into the spotlight. The IRS’s backup servers only kept e-mails for six months, and an IT employee told National Review Online that the agency still destroys and discards damaged hard drives as a matter of course. That policy remained unchanged even after it came under fire when agency officials told Congress Lerner’s hard drive was discarded.
“If we were replacing just the drive, after data recovery efforts, we destroyed and disposed of hard drives,” the IT employee, who adds that agency’s technology officials have been “much more focused” on preventing the inadvertent disclosure of private taxpayer records than on data retention.
Testifying before the Oversight Committee last month, the national archivist said that the IRS “did not follow the law” when it failed to report the loss of Lerner’s e-mails.