On June 17, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen sat before a firing range of politicians in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee, more than a month after his agency produced a June 13 letter describing the tax authority’s efforts to produce documents related to the Tea Party 501(c)(3) investigation. While disappearing government email might seem cliché, the facts behind the headlines are pretty easily understandable. Put simply: no money, no storage.

The short story of it all:

  • IRS users were limited to 500 mb of mailbox storage on Microsoft Exchange servers.
  • According to Koskinen’s testimony, appropriations targeted for information technology were cut year-over-year, leaving no funds for system maintenance and storage upgrades.
  • The tight server size limitation forced users to store important emails in a local PST folder on a local hard disk in a laptop or desktop PC, which is highly susceptible to crashes and mechanical failures.
  • Long before the investigation in mid-2011, a key witness, Lois Lerner, experienced an irrecoverable hard-drive crash, at the exact location where she archived important emails. Her local file containing her pre-2011 email was lost in the crash.
  • A collection of more than 65,000 Lerner emails were produced from a mishmash of sources to remediate the loss. The IRS collected existing Lerner email on servers and her devices, as well as emails that other employees retained from Lerner in their own email storage locations. The IRS retains daily disaster recovery tapes on a six-month cycle, but these tapes didn’t reach back to the missing time period and are most likely duplicative of what is in more accessible media.
  • Congress continues to investigate these issues. The IRS has been in perpetual document production mode ever since, at a cost of between $16 million to $18 million to taxpayers, the June 13 letter states.

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