The Internal Revenue Service is required by federal law to keep records of all agency emails and to print out hard copies of the emails to make sure they get saved in the event of a computer glitch.
The IRS recently claimed that it lost 24,000 of 67,000 emails that ex-official Lois Lerner sent between 2009 and 2011, due to a computer crash. The IRS, which agreed to turn over all of Lerner’s emails to the House Committee on Ways and Means, specifically lost emails Lerner sent to other Obama administration agencies and the White House. Lerner is a major figure in the targeting scandal that has hit the IRS.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, backed up the IRS’s claim of a computer crash. The IRS claimed that it is currently working to retrieve the emails by working with the other agencies, which are not obligated by the IRS’s agreement with the Ways and Means Committee to cooperate.
“The [Federal Records Act] requires agencies to make and preserve records of agency decisions, policies, and essential transactions, and to take steps to safeguard against the loss of agency records,” said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, who subpoenaed IRS Commissioner John Koskinen Monday.
The IRS’s own definition of the Federal Records Act makes clear that emails must be saved and documented, according to an instructional page for employees on the IRS website.
“The Federal Records Act applies to email records just as it does to records you create using other media,” according to the IRS. “Emails are records when they are: Created or received in the transaction of agency business; Appropriate for preservation as evidence of the government’s function and activities; or Valuable because of the information they contain.”
“If you create or receive email messages during the course of your daily work, you are responsible for ensuring that you manage them properly,” according to the IRS. “The Treasury Department’s current email policy requires emails and attachments that meet the definition of a federal record be added to the organization’s files by printing them (including the essential transmission data) and filing them with related paper records. If transmission and receipt data are not printed by the email system, annotate the paper copy.”
“Please note that maintaining a copy of an email or its attachments within the IRS email MS Outlook application does not meet the requirements of maintaining an official record,” the IRS stated. “Therefore, print and file email and its attachments if they are either permanent records or if they relate to a specific case.”
Losing all evidence of agency emails, therefore, is a violation of federal law.
Even without the required printed-out copies, it appears that the IRS has Lerner’s emails saved.
“They’re all stored somewhere,” Koskinen told lawmakers at a March hearing, referring to Lerner’s emails.
“They get taken off and stored in servers,” he added.