Former IRS official Lois Lerner giving testimony to a Congressional committee in 2013. The IRS says it can’t find her e-mails from before 2011.

During a hearing held yesterday by the House Oversight Committee, Committee Chairman Darrel Issa said that it was “unbelievable” that the IRS had lost the e-mails of former IRS official Lois Lerner. While Congressman Issa is not generally ignorant on tech issues, he’s clearly not familiar with just how believable such a screw-up is.
The IRS claims that many of Lerner’s e-mails were lost when the hard drive on her desktop computer crashed in 2011. In a Monday night hearing, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told Issa and the Oversight Committee that there was no way to recover these e-mails. “If you have a magical way for me to do that,” he told Issa, “I’d be happy to hear about it.”
The IRS is not the only federal agency to lose e-mails over the past few years. In fact, despite efforts at many agencies to standardize and improve e-mail by moving to services like Google Apps for Government and Microsoft Office 365 Government, many agencies still run their e-mail like it’s 1999. It’s not just a technology issue—it’s an IT policy issue, a staffing issue, and a cultural issue within government, one that the federal government shares with many private corporations.
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