IRS dumps unbelievable news

The Friday ‘news dump’ is a long-standing tradition in Washington, but the Obama administration has truly taken it to new heights. Oftentimes, the White House or affiliated government agencies hold off on releasing bad news or negative documents until late Friday afternoon in an attempt to avoid scrutiny from the media. After all, reporters have lives too.

I’ve started to feel uneasy on Fridays, knowing that the latest failure of this administration will likely come to light by midafternoon. Past notable news dumps have included postponing a decision on construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, admitting massive technical issues with healthcare.gov, revealing the White House’s decision to grant amnesty to DREAMers and more.

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This past Friday, it was the Internal Revenue Service’s turn to dump bad news on Congress. As Capitol Hill was winding down for the weekend and my colleagues and I were heading back to our districts, the IRS sent a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee stating that due to a computer crash it “lost” former IRS official Lois Lerner’s emails from January 2009 to April 2011. 

How convenient. Lerner is currently under investigation for her role in the IRS tea party targeting scandal and was held in contempt of Congress last month for refusing to testify regarding her role in it. Now we’re expected to believe that a computer crash resulted in the loss of two years’ worth of emails likely relevant to the ongoing investigation.

The IRS has continued to claim that there is no systemic corruption within the agency. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder claim that this investigation is over.  How can they make that case when Congress is just now being informed that two years of relevant emails were “lost”?

IRS officials had ample opportunity to be forthcoming with Congress. Why was the fact that these emails had been lost back in 2011 never mentioned before by any of the numerous IRS officials who have testified in front of multiple Congressional committees?

The story itself seems implausible on multiple levels. The idea that a government agency does not store employees’ emails on an outside server seems suspicious. The National Security Agency can hack into German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal cell phone, yet we are expected to believe that the IRS is incapable of retrieving internal emails?

My staff spoke with a number of technology experts in various fields to gauge the likelihood of a computer crash leading to the total loss of past emails. The resounding consensus among the experts was that the chances of a federal agency the size of the IRS having no ability to recover these emails was, at best, remote.  

A leading cybersecurity expert and hacker said the emails being lost was “very suspect.” A consultant specializing in Cloud Computing noted, “It’s highly improbable that a federal agency would not have a way to recover emails lost due to a hard drive crash as these emails would likely be saved to servers with redundancy and backup procedures.”

We have little information to go on and are expected to believe that Lerner’s emails weren’t stored on any centralized network—as is often the case at government agencies. In the age of cloud-computing, most individuals, companies, and agencies have learned by now not to save important data to devices that are subject to crashing, breaking, water-damage, etc.

This excuse from the IRS raises even bigger questions about the agency’s competence. Is there a process in place for disaster recovery and if so, what failed? If there isn’t, why aren’t these safeguards in place?

What will it take to get transparency from the IRS? The American people aren’t buying the administration’s ‘dog-ate-my-homework’ excuse.

But here’s the good news: if you’re being audited, just tell the IRS you sent your relevant documents to Lois Lerner between January 2009 and April 2011. 

Meadows has represented North Carolina's 11th Congressional District since 2013. He sits on the Foreign Affairs; the Oversight and Government Reform; and the Transportation and Infrastructure committees.