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The story of the lost emails of Lois Lerner and other IRS employees will undoubtedly be in the news for a long time to come, in fact until President Obama has left office if the GOP has its way. After all, everyone must know that the only way that such a massive store of electronic data could be lost in this modern age of cheap data storage and advanced technology is on purpose. Don’t they? Well, if they do know that it’s just another case of people knowing something that just isn’t so. If you want to discuss something technical or scientific, you should go ask the technicians or the scientists, shouldn’t you? This, unfortunately, while eminently sensible is not particularly in vogue with far too many people lately. Let’s ignore them, shall we?

I thought it was interesting when I found an article on ZDNet, a web site that specializes in technology, on the likelihood of the emails having been lost just as the IRS was saying they were. ZDNet, by the way, is the “descendant” of Ziff-Davis, a company that has been publishing magazines about computers since before the internet existed. I’ve been reading their various publications for a long time. Larry Seltzer, the writer of this article, has always struck me as a pretty good writer. His conclusion is that it’s entirely likely that there was no intentional destruction of those emails, just some amazingly bad IT management. He even cites a column by Megan McCardle, who had experience before her career change as a manager of Exchange email systems, who despite her (understandable given her ideology) qualifications on how suspicious it all still looks admits that it’s pretty likely that it was sheer bad technology management that caused this train wreck. Both Seltzer and McCardle studied this document provided to the House Ways and Means Committee by the IRS to come to their conclusions and after reading it myself I agree wholeheartedly. Here’s why.

The IRS, like many other governmental and private organizations, uses an email system based on software from Microsoft. The software on the client computers, like Lois Lerner’s, is called Outlook and the software on the servers is called Microsoft Exchange. One of the things I do in my day job is to run a very small installation like this for my employers. Like, Seltzer, I found it very striking that nowhere in the document the IRS provided was the word Exchange even mentioned. That’s a red flag about the understanding of the system that the person preparing this document possesses, in my opinion. In such a system the Exchange server not only manages the business of knowing everyone’s email address and the information to route it all properly but it is actually where the main storehouse of email is kept in databases as well as other information like the user’s address book, task list, and calendar. The Outlook software keeps a copy of this data on the client computer if it was set up that way when installed. In an organization with as much sensitive information as the IRS, my personal choice would be to not have that option selected. So everything would be on the servers. Or at least it should be. But in a not very brilliant display of badly allocated resources each employee was limited to 500 megabytes of storage in their mailbox. I can tell you that far more space than that is needed for a busy person who keeps their data for any length of time, like 4 times as much storage just for a busy person in a small business. How much more do you think a manager of an agency with 90,000 employees that is answerable to the Senate, the House and the White House needs? Then there are the policies concerning what to do when you run out of space. Seltzer quotes that paragraph and I think I will too. The emphasis is mine.

When a user needs to create space in his or her email box, the user has the option of either deleting emails (that do not qualify as official records) or moving them out of the active email box (inbox, sent items, deleted items) to an archive. In addition, if an email qualifies as an official record, per IRS policy, the email must be printed and placed in the appropriate file by the employee. Archived email is moved off the IRS email server and onto the employee’s hard drive on the employee’s individual computer.

So, yes, if an individual user has a hard drive crash they will lose all of their immediately available archived email. And it’s so very, very unnecessary. See, if you’re running an Exchange Server system and you’re willing or able to spend the money for what Microsoft calls the Enterprise edition of Exchange Server you can add the software and hardware so that those archives are not on someone’s local drive but are instead stored on drives linked to the servers that can in turn be backed up as more data is archived from the users. For the IRS or any other government agency to not have the budget to do this is, to use an old phrase, penny wise and pound foolish.

JIM SATTERFIELD
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Copyright 2014 The Moderate Voice
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Dorian de Wind, Military Affairs Columnist
Member
dduck
Member

BTW, It is my understanding that the IRS computers/systems are tied in with the ACA computers and programs for calculating subsidies and mandates. Hope they have good backup and stuff for this next round.

Ron Chusid
Guest

Back up of email has nothing to do with IRS calculations of subsidies.

dduck
Member

Emails aren’t the only things you back up. I try to back up data files, doesn’t everyone.

KP
Member

Too funny dduck.

My life is in the cloud via Carbonite.

If anyone cares, so is Louis Lerner’s (or some reasonable facsimile).

I have spent the last 15 years telling my daughters everything you put out onto the Internet is there forever.

Now we are to believe this woman and the other six are lost forever?

This is like walking in on a girl or boy friend in bed with a lover and them looking you in the eye and saying it’s not what it looks like.

STOP!!

KP
Member

They might have a contractor who performs the equivalent duties and in fact did have one but for some reason, probably budgetary, cancelled the contract

Sure they did :)

The Ohioan
Member

They might have a contractor who performs the equivalent duties and in fact did have one but for some reason, probably budgetary, cancelled the contract

The downside of privatization. I’m sure this whole thing will convince congress to stop shopping out important duties and to pony up the money it takes for a department to do its job. Pretty sure.

dduck
Member

I am willing to concede that this past event was a, what, technical/ budget/whatever error and not malicious. However looking and preparing ahead, as we should, , do we know that the vast amount of data involving the ACA/IRS implementation of subsidies and mandates/fines will work with the IRS computers correctly and its data well protected. If not, we are in for a spot of trouble, as the British would say. What say you computer experts (I am not.)

sheknows
Guest

Thank you Jim, good article. I would imagine that the antiquated systems of our government have finally seen their day.
One would think that the most powerful country in the world would have the most efficient and fastest computer systems in the world, but as the VA scandal( the first one..where vets couldn’t get their benefits due to backlog) has shown us, that is not even near the case. Apparently, the only government organization that stores info is the NSA.
Anyway, I don”t even understand the issue here. On record, it shows the Dem organizations were denied status by a slight margin over the Rep ones applying. Who CARES if they were scrutinized slower or more repeatedly. They don’t have the best track record for honesty as the EXISTING so called non-profits will attest to.
If they are honest, that’s all that matters.
Right wingers tend to scream “scandal” just to try and create doubt and what is worse…too many people buy into their crap and look for that one piece of hay in the haystack at the respect of our entire political system.

Aren’t we just sick and tired of faux Repubican outrage? Apparently not…..

rudi
Member

Even Carbonite is finite and expensive.
http://www.carbonite.com/backup/pricing-plans/business-plans

Plus
$49999 per year

Cloud Storage Space250 GB
Additional storage available

Home PC now come with over 1 tetrabyte HD. 250 GB is 25% of a basic HD.

A majority of PC’s at Walmart are larger than 250GB HD’s.
http://www.walmart.com/browse/electronics/desktop-pc-towers-only/3944_3951_1224739/?_refineresult=true&mmodule=1&_mm=&_mm=&povid=cat1090104-env430704-moduleB050814-lLinkDesktopsShelf1DesktopswithoutMonitor&_mm=

SteveK
Member

Having my hard drive fail (read no spin dead) earlier this year with the most recent backup 3 months old I lost 12 weeks of eBay sales / tax data. I was able to rebuild it from hard copy but it cost me 4 long days. That’s when I looked into cloud storage. Now I’ll never go back to keeping data on my computer again.

Starting with Dropbox because it came installed on my tablet (5 GB free storage) and it gave me a place to keep all my business documents, forms, and Outlook data file (email).

Then last week Microsoft announced upping their FREE OneDrive storage from 7 to 15 GB so I signed up for that too. I’m now using OneDrive for my primary cloud storage with Dropbox as a once a week backup in case something happens to OneDrives servers. Beats the heck out of monthly backups and / or permanent data loss and it’s free.

Shannon Lee
Member

My institute switched Exchange service providers last year and we lost emails, calendar appointments, and then had appointment doubled and tripled in our calenders. I have never been a fan of MS Exchange.

and yes, 500 MB is an absolute joke of a limit. That forces people to archive emails in their pst files on their local computers. A recipe for disaster imho.

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