The Corner

IRS Source: Lerner’s Hard Drive Likely Destroyed

Lois Lerner’s lost e-mails are most likely gone forever.

In the wake of the news that a computer crash destroyed over two years’ worth of Lois Lerner’s e-mails, House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa on Tuesday subpoenaed her hard drive. Unfortunately, according to a source in the IRS’s IT department, that subpoena is unlikely to turn up much.

As a matter of practice, says the source, the IRS discards damaged hard drives after wiping them of all data. ”If we can run them, we have to wipe them,” he says. If they will not run, the agency destroys them completely by magnetically degaussing them.

In both cases, the damaged hard drives are disposed of. “You’re not supposed to keep them around,” the source says. “You destroy the data.”

That apparently is part of a standard government procedure, but the revelation is sure to roil Republican lawmakers who had hoped there would be some way to recover the e-mails that the IRS said the computer crash had destroyed.

It is also part of a broader problem: Government record-keeping practices aren’t very good. At the IRS, servers are backed up for only six months and more permanent record keeping is, it appears, an individual responsibility, with agency employees instructed to print hard copies of documents that may be subject to freedom-of-information requests. 

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