IRS chief coming to Capitol Hill to explain missing emails
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Find C-SPAN on your local television provider's schedule and set your DVRs. Things are going to get exciting on Friday, June 20, and Monday, June 23.
That's when Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen will be on Capitol Hill to explain why his agency can't hand over a chunk of emails to and from Lois Lerner.
Koskinen is the only witness for the 9 a.m. Eastern Time hearing Friday, June 20, before the House Ways and Means Committee.
He also will be solo at 7 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, June 23, when he answers questions from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Plan on the questioning to be tougher than usual.
In a statement about the lost emails, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) noted that he and his colleagues are looking for "answers we don't yet have, because – surprise, surprise – a few computers crashed. Plot lines in Hollywood are more believable than what we are getting from this White House and the IRS."
Lost email cover-up? Lerner is the former head of the IRS' Exempt Organizations unit. She has been the focal point of the controversy over the agency's handling of applications for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status.
There's no question that IRS staff more closely scrutinized applications based on the requesting groups' seemingly political names. This attention was given to organizations on both sides of the aisle, but it was extra examination of conservative and Tea Party groups that ignited the controversy.
Many Republicans, however, believe that the IRS' review process, which slowed down approval of applications during the last presidential election campaign, possibly affected the outcome of the 2012 vote. And they believe this is no coincidence.
Since the improper IRS action was revealed in May 2013, Republicans have been searching for a connection to the Obama White House.
Their suspicions have been kicked into high gear with the revelation that the IRS cannot produce all of Lerner's electronic communications in connection with the questionable 501(c)(4) reviews. In addition, the IRS says computer crashes also have prevented the agency from recovering emails from six other involved IRS employees, including the chief of staff to then Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller.
Miller lost his job after the use of be on the lookout, or BOLO, lists based on group names was revealed in a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report on the questionable review process.
Compounding the problem, say GOP lawmakers, is that the IRS has known about the loss of these communications since February, but didn't tell investigators until this month.
How the emails disappeared: Koskinen will be grilled on the emails and why they are irretrievable.
The official explanation involves, among other things, the IRS' backup system. In a letter to members of Congress last week, the IRS said that while its does a daily backup of its email servers, prior to May 2013 the backups were kept on tape for only six months. To save money, the backup tapes after than period then were reused.
When the Tea Party targeting scandal broke last year, the IRS said it changed its system and now stores rather than recycles backup tapes.
Compounding the problem, according to the IRS account of the missing emails, were a series of hard drive crashes, including to Lerner's computer.
While many technologically astute folks find the explanation questionable at best, some high-tech experts are not surprised. The IRS, like many federal agencies, operates on a less-than-modern system, primarily because it doesn't have the money to upgrade all its systems.
"'Print and save' is some people's actual policy. And a lot of times attachments aren't saved at all, even though they're supposed to be," Melanie Sloan, the director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal-leaning watchdog group, told USA Today.
"Everyone is acting today like they just discovered record-keeping problems, and that Lois Lerner is the first person to ever have them," Sloan said. "I'm not excusing the IRS, but my hunch is it's incompetence rather than malice, given that this is a long-standing problem."
Sloan also noted that missing emails have been a problem for administrations under both parties. The George W. Bush White House couldn't find five million e-mails that Congressional investigators wanted to see in connection with the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys.
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