- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The IRS has put an emergency stay on deleting its computer hard drives and devices such as BlackBerrys, with the commissioner saying in a letter to Congress on Wednesday that the agency goofed in deleting a key hard drive last year that was supposed to be preserved as part of a court case.

Commissioner John Koskinen also said the agency has discovered a backup for that hard drive and may be able to find records critical to the court case. But he said that was a “fortunate” occurrence and vowed to try to reform the tax agency’s practices.

“I have ordered a halt to the erasure and recycling of all employee devices, including hard drives and mobile devices, for all current and departing employees,” he said in a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.

He also said the IRS is changing its procedures for when it is required to hold documents for court cases: It will preserve the records not only of the person in question, but his or her supervisor’s records as well.

In the longer term, the IRS is trying to ditch computer hard drives for storage altogether and to require that records be saved on the agency’s main network.

“It has long been our view — validated, unfortunately, by the events of recent years — that the service’s reliance on employee hard drives as an archival records store is suboptimal, not least because they are vulnerable to equipment failure resulting in data loss,” he wrote.

He was referring to the crash of former IRS executive Lois G. Lerner’s hard drive, which caused the agency to lose tens of thousands of emails that Congress was trying to examine in the tea party targeting scandal.

An independent auditor eventually found backup tapes — which the IRS claimed didn’t exist — and some of the emails were restored.

In January, more than two years after the tea party scandal, the IRS admitted in court that it had deleted yet another hard drive — that of former employee Samuel Maruca — even though the drive was supposed to be preserved for a court case.

Mr. Hatch said it was “sheer coincidence” that a backup was found and the hard drive erasure was less damaging than first thought.

“Still, some information will never be recovered and the agency deleted information subject to the litigation hold. These seemingly routine disappearing acts make clear that the agency’s record-keeping practices have fallen woefully short,” he said.

He said the IRS was right to change its policies.

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