The IRS: Losing Records

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The IRS recently announced it lost a few years' worth of an employee's emails - someone who was involved with the extra scrutiny given to some right-leaning groups seeking tax exempt status. Todd Zwillich, Takeaway Washington correspondent, explains what happened.



Todd Zwillich

Comments [36]



You and WNYC never fail to disappoint. I can't wait for this segment to be glossed over so we can get back to the real issues like making Weed Legal, Abortion, The 60's and, LBGT Issues.

Congratulations on a new round of top notch reporting from an unbiased "news" team.

Jun. 24 2014 10:25 PM

I know Lehrer is a hard lefty, but often he will at least present the other side of the story. The "missing" IRS emails is a major story. The short dismissive way it was treated on todays show was shameful. When the public is being told numerous hard drives crashed and nothing is recoverable - it is very suspicious. When the media turns a blind eye to government corruption they are equally guilty. Regardless of your personal feeling about the tax status of these groups - the IRS is supposed to IMPARTIALLY enforce the law. Both political parties push the limits with these groups - yet only one side was selected for investigation.

Jun. 24 2014 07:54 PM

@Andrew from Brooklyn

"Hey, I have an idea. Let's have as our guest a liberal journalist from liberal NPR."

Stick a sock in it, Andrew. Zwillich and NPR are far more impartial than any "journalist" you can name working for you-know-who.

@hmi - Quoting from the Issa slamfest ain't earning you any points.

Jun. 24 2014 06:41 PM
Ro from Metro area

With regard to technology provided to the agencies, we are always at least five years behind state of the art. Does Cantor remember government shutdown,sequestration? Shouldn't that be the beginning of the conversation? My govt. agency received new telephones: state of the art six years ago. Only began using email in 2008! Provided with Wordperfect 8 Eric Cantor wouldn't increase funds to the IRS to purchase better electronics, Your call-in tech said a private company could retrieve lost files, but would Cantor pay it? Years at reg agencies yet never a political directive driving who should be examined and who not. Decisions like these are made by expedience. Sudden increase in a type of application, review may be streamlined or channeled to workers with experience with that type to make decisions more quickly. Workers judged on quantity not quality in America. Push the paper, get to the next. Less staff,more time. Victims of the Tea Party who short-changed government, forcing early retirements not replacing workers. Antique nature of government equipment,rejected by the market. New old computers. Slow as molasses internet. Obsolete printers, computers. Government agencies are the landfills.

Jun. 24 2014 01:59 PM

Don't think it's important to you because (this time) they "only targeted conservatives"?

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

— Martin Luther King Jr. - Letter from Birmingham jail

Jun. 24 2014 12:06 PM
Joseph Bell from Downtown


I cited the comments from the IT pro caller about searching Internet servers in my earlier comment. However, if these were strictly INTERNAL IRS system email meaning from one IRS recipient to another, then there is less chance that "outside" internet traffic computer servers are involved. I'll bow out now on the technical aspects. I'm out of my depth.

Jun. 24 2014 12:03 PM
resident alien from Williamsburg

It would be a huge scandal if the IRS would have collected higher taxes from politically opposing parties/institutions!
Just scrutinizing those institutions is NOT A SCANDAL - just politics as usual.
And less harmful than closing a bridge and potentially endangering lives...

But all those convenient coincidental hard drive crashes are hard to believe!
As one caller pointed out: emails might get stored on both ends (sender and receiver) and in a lot of places in between. Just deleting it on your end, does not guarantee that they will never see the light of day! keep on digging!

Jun. 24 2014 11:56 AM

@ITBS from Hoboken

"The failure-rate for modern hard drives is tiny (unless you have a Seagate 1.5TB), and data-recovery is better than ever."

If a hard drive crashes, am I going to pay $2K to recover what's on it or just restore the data from a backup? If you say pay to recover, you are using your hindsight glasses.

Why the data wasn't restored is a more useful question.

I triple-dare ANYONE who uses a local or cloud-based backup service to restore their computer to the way it was more than six months ago. You can't do it, and you know it. Why do you think it important that the IRS be able to do it?

Jun. 24 2014 11:55 AM

Is this segment and guest a joke? I find it interesting that so many PC's simultaneously failed when the investigation began. What are the odds? What about the servers? Mail isn't only stored on the PC. No backups on any layer here? Really? What about getting at the recipients email or servers. It took over a year to find out the machines mysteriously all crashed. LOL. Please. The way this is playing out make me almost certain there is fire behind the smoke.

Jun. 24 2014 11:51 AM

"Andrew from Brooklyn" -
"Hey, I have an idea. Let's have as our guest a liberal journalist from liberal NPR."


Jun. 24 2014 11:50 AM
blacksocialist from BKbaby

Caesar Romaine from Manhattan - youre an idi0t. go away with your false equivalency, your cognitive dissonance.... simpleton

Jun. 24 2014 11:47 AM
khadija Boyd from Brooklyn

Is not Paul Ryan an MD? Why are my taxes paying for his Platinum parachute in Healthcare? Second thought, I retract! better let him steam gas, in the hallowed Congress. Phew!!! ;}}} ko

Jun. 24 2014 11:47 AM
Joseph Bell from Downtown

The IT caller has made a huge point. The search for the missing emails should now focus on non-IRS computers. Several big Wall Street scandals were broken wide open with e-mails retrieved from outside internet traffic computers. Separate point, even "erased" emails can often be recovered from a physical hard drive. The FBI is skilled at that task.

Jun. 24 2014 11:46 AM
ITBS from Hoboken

Those people are all probably lying.

The failure-rate for modern hard drives is tiny (unless you have a Seagate 1.5TB), and data-recovery is better than ever.

Jun. 24 2014 11:46 AM

Tape is the lowest cost method for long-term backup by an order of magnitude. High-density, low cost. Cassius ought to stick to something he knows a little more about.

Even tape systems fail - carts go bad, heads crash. That's why the redundant copies are the IT technicians friend. Six months is more than long enough if all you want to do is restore a dead desktop or laptop hard drive. Why weren't Ms. Lerner's emails restored to her new machine?

If Congress thinks that the IRS retention policy (six months) is too short, they ought to increase their budget. This would mean their donors would have to start paying more taxes...Something closer to the 15% they now almost pay.

The Congressional outrage should really start with a look in the mirror.

Jun. 24 2014 11:46 AM
Andrew from Brooklyn

Hey, I have an idea. Let's have as our guest a liberal journalist from liberal NPR.

Jun. 24 2014 11:44 AM
IT Professional for 48 Years from NJ

There is nothing wrong with using tape for archive. Tapes have on average 30 years of shelf life at least. You just have to keep the backup software current that did the original backup. Plus that, years ago we used to restore to a seat in an Exchange, then back it up again to stand the bits up.

If backup is relied upon disk as deep archive, there is a lot of exposure to losing data. Rust at rest is much better than spinning rust anytime.

The IRS just went cheap and did not purchase enough tape and shelve for a minimum of seven years. You cannot do that with disk. Disk is just for speed of backup, but there are many tape drives today that are just as fast as disk.

Jun. 24 2014 11:44 AM

In fact, conservative and liberal groups were not treated remotely equally:

"To support this false narrative, the Administration and congressional Democrats have seized upon the notion that the IRS’s targeting was not just limited to conservative applicants. Time and again, they have claimed that the IRS targeted liberal- and progressive-oriented groups as well – and that, therefore, there was no political animus to the IRS’s actions.4 These Democratic claims are flat-out wrong and have no basis in any thorough examination of the facts. ...
The Committee’s investigation demonstrates that the IRS engaged in disparate treatment of conservative-oriented tax-exempt applicants....Other documents and testimony show that the initial criteria used to identify and hold Tea Party applications captured conservative organizations. After the criteria were broadened in July 2012 to be cosmetically neutral, material provided to the Committee indicates that the IRS still intended to target only conservative applications."

Jun. 24 2014 11:44 AM

Who exactly wants to pay to upgrade the IRSs archaic systems ??

FAUX outrage !

Jun. 24 2014 11:43 AM
Joyce from NYC

It is not a “partisan concern” if we feel intimidated. I understand that the IRS has gotten lists for donors to certain groups.

I feel intimidated. I not longer respond to issues solicitations out of fear that I will be audited or otherwise harassed.


Jun. 24 2014 11:42 AM
DC from Brooklyn, NY

Did anybody not watch the Colbert Report's journey to fund a political action group, a 501c4 in the heart of this "scandal?" If the IRS is concerned about money laundering in politics, they should be concerned.

Jun. 24 2014 11:40 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Cassius seems to be confusing irony with incredibility.

Jun. 24 2014 11:40 AM
The Truth from Becky

Brian, he called you "mister" and you had to get all snarky...I suppose you are not accustomed to people treating you with respect.

This is unacceptable! I don't believe the records were "lost", a few years worth? No way.

Jun. 24 2014 11:39 AM
tom from Astoria

Oh, it's a scandal, alright. It's a scandal that Paul Ryan and his party are so over-the-top determined slow down, stop, tear down central government -- meanwhile, the CHinese are installing high speed rail from coast to coast for their future as a competitive nation. The GOP is keeping us down keeping us looking backward for their reactionary politics!

Jun. 24 2014 11:39 AM

To the Caller - The Congress (mostly the GOP) is not after facts. They are after headlines.

The GOP is treading water and is about to go down for the third time...

-ObamaCare furor is losing its mojo as a driver for elections
-Despite no action on job recovery, our economy is recovering. The duration (which has been too long) will always be on their head.
-The arrest of Abu Khattalah makes the original CIA story (pushed around the Sabbath gasbag shows by Susan Rice) was correct. The Benghazi Attack was at least partially inspired by anger over the Youtube video.

There is nothing left in the quiver but this made-up "Obama used the IRS to withhold funding to the Tea Party".

Jun. 24 2014 11:38 AM
IPW from Brooklyn

I'm an Obama supporter, tried and true. But – I am also incredulous that the IRS could lose those emails. Even if there is a good explanation (which there is not), it is inexcusable that their system would be so archaic. Especially, as Ryan points out, that the IRS expects us to keep our tax records for seven years. I also do not believe them.

Jun. 24 2014 11:37 AM
Steven from Brooklyn

I suspect that if Watergate had never occurred and the facts of that case were unfolding now in the Obama administration, those now calling the the IRS issue a phony scandal would be saying the same about the new Watergate.

Jun. 24 2014 11:36 AM
khadija Boyd from Brooklyn

whatever! Go after the woman or other person, whatever! IRS is a Federal Institution! 'them nut nos have hobbled this Institution; thus, antiquated IT etc... Go ahead. Geez!

Jun. 24 2014 11:36 AM
Caesar Romaine from Manhattan

Brian -

Imagine the roles are reversed. A republican administration. Allegations that a republican controlled IRS are investigating liberals, denying liberals 501C4 status, targeting them for audits etc... Now imagine how you would run this show. Would you question whether it was really a scandal? Come on now... be honest.

Jun. 24 2014 11:34 AM
RJ from prospect hts, brooklyn

I want to reinforce what DC from Brooklyn, NY says: It was *not* only right-wing groups that were looked at. There has been a vast expansion in the number of groups, labeled "501(c)4" whose political activity is supposed to be extremely limited that have *dramatically* expanded their political activities. *All* 501(c)4s were being looked at at that time, and the fact that there was a tremendous expansion of these activities among right-wing groups--especially very large ones, with more money to spend--following Citizens United. This has been completely dropped by the media.

Jun. 24 2014 11:31 AM

Reduced IRS budgets over successive years since 1980 also = fewer resources for archiving/preserving records. The GOP austerity plans had goals & this "scandal" is one of their own creation.

Proper record protection costs money for people, computer storage resources, etc.

The GOP is winning the war against data protection.

Jun. 24 2014 11:30 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Are folks aware of how much the IRS' budget has been cut, and the effects of this?

Jun. 24 2014 11:29 AM

Real scandal IRS changed exclusively to primarily on its own

Jun. 24 2014 11:25 AM


I think 'alleged scandal' gets it right. There is no evidence that this behavior originated or was directed by anyone in the White House. [despite Issa's ham-fisted attempts to create a connection.] The rabid Right would like us to think that BHO was using the IRS like RMN had but (so far) there is no evidence to support it.

For the Left, a bigger outrage is who changed Congress's language on charitable political groups from 'exclusive' to 'primarily' opening the door for this additional non-disclosed money in an electoral process that already has too much money in it.

Jun. 24 2014 11:21 AM

"Alleged scandal." Really?
How about just the parts that are perfectly confirmed, not alleged? Like Lois Lerner taking the 5th. Like Nikole Flax being called to the White House dozens of times for top-level consultations. Like vast numbers of missing email from the precise period under investigation. Like the IRS changing its story on what email is or is not available on multiple occasions. Like the IRS, despite what its commissioner notes as terribly aged computers that crash constantly, canceling its contract with their email backup provider. Like the IRS pleading lack of funds for computers while it spends $50M on conferences and parody entertainments. And that's all without even touching the issues of conservative groups having their applications held up for years, their confidential data being supplied to parties who had no right to it, let alone who issued instructions for these intense scrutinies.
Alleged scandal? I think not.
But, of course, Mr. Lehrer has no intention of skewing perception of this issue by using that "alleged,"

Jun. 24 2014 10:31 AM
DC from Brooklyn, NY

The only reason there was a scandal was so that these political action groups wanted to be free to launder money without paying taxes. Everyone conveniently ignored that the IRS probed more than just "tea party" groups and are feigning outrage to distract us from money in politics.

Jun. 24 2014 10:03 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.