The Internal Revenue Service has guidelines that require all IRS employees to keep printed copies of all work-related emails.
That means even if the IRS did experience a computer crash that makes it unable to retrieve certain emails to and from former IRS employee Lois Lerner, as the IRS is claiming, those emails should have been printed out and kept on file by Lerner. And if Lerner failed to do that, she violated IRS rules.
The IRS shocked members of Congress late Friday by telling them it was unable to find emails between Lois Lerner and people outside the IRS between early 2009 and April 2011. IRS officials told the House Ways & Means Committee that a computer crash would make it impossible to get those emails back.
Republicans reacted angrily by saying they doubted the IRS story, and that a forensic audit needs to conducted to find out what happened. Lerner has been the target of GOP investigations into the IRS targeting scandal, as they believe she was directly involved in delaying applications from conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
But even if the IRS is telling the truth about the computer crash, its own employee procedures indicate that Lerner should have paper copies of all her emails on file.
The IRS maintains an Internal Revenue Manual, and chapter 10, section 3 of that manual deals with standards for using email. Those standards, which apply to “all IRS employees,” make it clear that paper copies of all emails must be maintained.
Section 3 states that, “All federal employees and federal contractors are required by law to preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency.”
“If you create or receive email messages during the course of your daily work, you are responsible for ensuring that you manage them properly,” it adds. “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.”
According to these guidelines, an email formally becomes a federal record very easily. It just has to be created or received in the course of IRS business, is appropriate to keep as evidence of the government’s activities, or must otherwise be valuable based on the information it contains.
Section 3 also stresses that maintaining email records in a computer’s email application “does not meet the requirements of maintaining an official record.”
It was not clear as of early Saturday morning whether House Republicans had asked or will ask for paper copies of Lerner’s emails.
Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said late Friday that he wants the Obama administration to help scour the administration for any trace of the documents.
“This failure of the IRS requires the White House, which promised to get to the bottom of this, to do an Administration-wide search and production of any emails to or from Lois Lerner,” he said.