IRS tells GOP committee: We've lost e-mails from six more employees involved in scandal

And all of them, apparently, were lost in computer crashes. That’s novel. Normally, when an agency doesn’t want to comply with a document request, it simply lies by claiming that no such document exists.

I’ll spare you a click and Voxsplain this one right here: Clearly the answer is to increase the IRS’s budget, so that they can afford more reliable PCs.

Seriously, though, who’s getting fired?

It’s not just Lois Lerner’s e-mails. 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 told 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 revelation about Lerner’s e-mails rekindled the scandal and today’s news has further inflamed Republicans. Camp and Boustany are now demanding a special prosecutor to investigate “every angle” of the targeting. They expressed particular outrage that the agency has known since February that it would not be able to produce the e-mails requested by the committee yet did not apprise the committee of that fact, and they charged in a statement that the IRS is attempting to “cover up the fact that it convenient lost key documents in the investigation.”

Show of hands: When was the last time your computer crashed so hard that important data — e-mails, specifically — were lost and couldn’t be retrieved? I’ve used PCs and Macs every day for the past eight years, for 12 hours a day or more during weekdays, and I can’t remember experiencing something like that. It’s an “Internet 2001” problem, not “Internet 2011,” especially given how cheap and ubiquitous back-up drives are today — and yet it happened to the IRS, apparently, no fewer than seven times, as recently as three years ago. And by the way, why are IRS e-mails being saved locally to employees’ hard drives instead of to a central server, a la e-mail programs like Gmail? The agency is required by statute to preserve records; the easiest way to do that for e-mail would be to store everything in a central cloud. Why doesn’t the IRS do that?

Or … do they? Here’s what Bryan Preston found out when he spoke to a former IRS IT specialist about the agency’s protocols:

“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…

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.”

Is there any contemporaneous evidence that corroborates the computer-crash explanation? There is in Lois Lerner’s case: The IRS produced an e-mail exchange from 2011 in which Lerner and an IT person discussed the damage to her hard drive. If they were dealing with a plague of crashes, though, in which seven people or more lost data due to computer failures, there should also be contemporaneous evidence of the IT department noticing that the problem was systemic. Is there any? Hard to believe people at the IRS, of all places, would have shrugged at seeing potentially important data on multiple hard drives going up in smoke.

Either the IRS’s IT department is miserably incompetent, in which case lots of people should be fired, or the data destruction is deliberate, in which case lots of people should go to jail. Over to you, Ron Fournier. Exit question: Did anyone not connected to the targeting of conservative nonprofits lose any e-mails or is this curious string of bad luck confined to the principal players?