IRS Electronic Mail System Flawed


The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) computer networks are not up to snuff and the rules outlining the federal tax collection agency’s electronic mail system is glaringly flawed. In fact, during a recent Congressional investigation committee meeting, one Congressman described the overall electronic mail system of the IRS, unbelievably deficient.

According to journalist Antone Gonsalves, members of the House Ways and Means Committee blasted IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen during an investigation meeting held in Washington D.C. The hearings are being conducted in order to pry deeper into missing electronic messages that were destroyed during a computer crash at the IRS in 2011.

“The allegations were made by Michigan Democrat, Sandy Levin, during a very contentious hearing,” said Gonsalves.

According to Miami Herald reporter, Megan McArdle, the information within these electronic mail messages were part of a bigger probe into what role Lois Lerner played in delaying the granting of tax exempt status of Republican and conservative groups. Lerner is the former director of the IRS’ Exempt Organizations, a non-partisan division within the IRS and can either green light the tax status or quash it. Unfortunately, a major hard-drive crash throughout the agency’s computer network wiped out more than two years of electronic mail messages, said McArdle. The missing e-mails are critical in order to determine if the IRS was in cahoots with the White House. Many experts are comparing the missing electronic mail messages to the infamous 18 minutes of missing taped phone messages while President Richard Nixon was in office.

“Naturally everybody is suspicious and believes this is a cover-up for destroying evidence,” said McArdle.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the lost electronic database included taxpayer information on more than 30 organizations. This data specifically included highly confidential names of donors of various causes.

IRSShining the light on a larger issue, Congress blamed one of the largest and most visible agencies in the United States government of incredibly poor information technology (IT) protocol. McArdle explained that former director Lerner, like all IRS computer users, used her own discretion in deciding what should be saved and what did not need to be saved. When it came to saving her outdated e-mails, she followed customary for IRS practices by saving the messages on her computer’s local hard drive rather than a larger back-up system. Once her computer crashed, it became nearly impossible to retrieve the database of electronic mail communications.

“It was moronic information technology policy,” said McArdle.

In addition, many experts point out that while the IRS had a budget of nearly $2 billion, this amount is not even close to industry standards for a corporate IT budget. In fact, according to a recent study by CIO Magazine, the typical large corporate entity spends just over 5 percent of revenues on information technology. With these numbers in context, the IRS’ budget should have been closer to $35 billion.

Politics aside, Gonsalves explained that the hearings are also a good lesson for corporate executives across the country. All corporate electronic communication messages should be archived in a safe, protected server location.

“You will be looked on with suspicion if you suddenly lose documents during a lawsuit or criminal investigation,” said Gonsalves.

As companies use electronic mail more and more to share thoughts, contracts, and communication chains, they are also becoming incredibly nimble at the ability to access this information rapidly. However, while top-notch corporations perform this modern IT practice daily, the IRS’ flawed electronic mail system is an obvious example of how not to run a successful business.

By Vincent Aviani

CIO Magazine
Wall Street Journal
Miami Herald

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