Since we are in the middle of an evidence-destruction scandal on top of a government harassment scandal, it is easy to overlook that we also have a Federal-bureaucracy-that-makes-itself-unaccountable scandal. I’m not talking about this specific instance of claiming the hard drive ate the email. I’m talking about IRS policy which was deliberately designed to give bureaucrats secrecy so that they can never be prosecuted.
Consider this CNN Report, put out before the hearings yesterday, which took a question and answer format (the underlining is my own):
Wait. How exactly can government emails be lost forever?
Ah yes. Our first question too.
During this time period (2009-2011), the IRS capped how much material each employee could keep in an email account to about 1,800 emails. If the employee went above that capacity, the individual had to either delete emails or move them to their hard drive. All of them on Lerner’s hard drive were lost when it crashed.
But, didn’t the emails stay on a server or somewhere else in the system?
The IRS has said no. That during this time period, the only system-wide email storage were backup tapes erased every six months. Thus the only permanent storage of emails was on employees hard drives. The agency changed this policy in May 2013.
What about the other missing emails? Did six other hard drives also crash?
The House Ways and Means Committee says that this past Monday, the IRS told them that the agency also lost emails belonging to six other IRS employees whose hard drives had also crashed.
One of those six employees was particularly important: Nikole Flax, who had worked as chief of staff to the former head of the IRS. Flax was known to be involved in discussions about the tea party targeting.
Back to all this email, isn’t the IRS required to keep every communication? Did the IRS break the law?
This could be a significant question and point of debate at Friday’s hearing.
Federal regulation generally requires agencies to retain items of official record. The IRS insists that its email policy met that regulation and that the determination of what was “official” (vs what was personal) was up to each employee.
Thus, the agency asked Lerner and each IRS employee to move any “official” email to their hard drive to be saved. Republicans have already indicated they are not satisfied with that answer.
So let’s assume that the IRS is being truthful about its procedures. What would that mean?
It would mean that Lois Lerner’s emails are just the disappearing tip of the iceberg. The entire system at the IRS is designed to make it impossible to reconstruct a documentary record about anything that goes on in the IRS. It is all a big system for obstructing anyone else from ever calling them to account for any of their actions.
The entire agency needs to be abolished or every employee needs to be prosecuted for violating the Federal Records Act.