On the IRS Emails, the Plot Thickens

It has emerged over the last few days that at the time of Lois Lerner’s hard drive crash, the IRS had a contract with a company called Sonasoft (“Email archiving done right.”) Sonasoft promoted its relationship with the IRS in 2009: “If the IRS uses Sonasoft products to backup their servers why wouldn’t you choose them to protect your servers?”

So why doesn’t that solve the problem of the missing IRS emails? Because the IRS canceled its contract with Sonasoft in September 2011, a couple of months after Lerner’s hard drive crash. Everyone seems to assume that Sonasoft would have deleted whatever information it had gotten from the IRS at that time. That is certainly a logical assumption; in fact, it would make sense to require Sonasoft to get rid of any customer’s data once the business relationship ends. But it wouldn’t hurt for a House committee to lay a subpoena on Sonasoft to learn more about the IRS’s dealings with that company and make certain that it doesn’t still have any IRS records.

Two observations about the Sonasoft story: first, the IRS’s cancellation of the Sonasoft contract occurred in the context of a $1.8 billion annual budget for information services, plus $330 million annually for “business systems modernization.” All of that, and the IRS couldn’t afford an email archiving service? Not only that, it had to recycle its backup tapes to save money? Ridiculous.

Second, I noted here that the IRS gave Senators Hatch and Wyden an email thread in which Lois Lerner talks with IRS technical employees about trying to recover materials from her crashed hard drive. The striking thing about the exchange is that Lerner begins the discussion by writing:

It was nice to meet you this morning–although I would have preferred it was under different circumstances. I’m taking advantage of your offer to try and recapture my lost personal files. My computer skills are pretty basic, so nothing fancy–but there were some documents in the files that were irreplaceable.

Lerner’s concern was about the “personal files” on her computer, nothing about emails. This would make no sense if her computer crash had destroyed the principal record of her work for the IRS over the previous two years, i.e. her email traffic. But it makes perfect sense for Lerner to be unconcerned about emails if she knew the IRS had a contract with Sonasoft and that her emails were safely archived. All she needed to worry about were her own personal files. That unconcern would have been entirely appropriate until two months later, when the IRS canceled the Sonasoft contract. Based on what we now know, that appears to be the moment when the record of Lerner’s dealings with other federal entities (like the White House and DOJ) was lost.

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