IRS looks to get a handle on email records

E-mail circling the globe

WHAT: The IRS is gearing up to meet looming records management requirements.

WHY: The short answer, probably, is Lois Lerner. The IRS has a serious email problem. Congressional investigators have been seeking lost email from Lerner, a former IRS senior executive who allegedly directed tax officials to give undue scrutiny to requests by right-leaning groups seeking tax-exempt status. The IRS says it cannot produce about two years of Lerner's email record, claiming they were lost in a 2011 computer crash.

It wouldn't shock some IT folks to hear about an incident of email lost from hard drives and unfindable on backup tape, although others have questioned the IRS claim. But for Republicans in Congress pursuing the case, the tale of lost email is just too much of a coincidence to be believable -- a "dog ate my homework" moment for the Obama administration. The situation prompted Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) to introduce  legislation that would empower the National Archive and Records Administration to issue regulations about electronic records management and set certification requirements for email and other messaging systems. Each agency would be required to have a records plan that includes, "the identification and automatic retention of electronic messaging accounts that should be preserved as permanent federal records."

Not long after testifying before Congress on this very issue, NARA Chief Records Officer Paul Wester told a gathering of feds, "If you don't want to have to stand before Congressman [Darrell] Issa with your hand raised, touching the chin of God, get your email under control."

The IRS is apparently taking the lesson to heart, playing catch-up with an administration records management directive from 2012 and a more recent NARA guidance specific to email. These require management of temporary and permanent email records electronically by the end of 2016, abandoning the "print and file" method still in use in many agencies. By the end of 2019, NARA plans for all permanent federal records to be managed in durable electronics formats.

In a recent request for information, the tax agency is seeking commercial solutions to electronic records management. The IRS records schedule currently calls for the permanent preservation of 31 top level accounts, including the IRS commissioner. There are 330 email accounts for executives, senior managers, and some policy and program personnel that are subject to 15-year retention. Other IRS email accounts are subject to deletion after seven years. The IRS uses Microsoft Exchange to manage email for more than 100,000 users.

Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Nov 13, 2014 at 10:12 AM


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