Rep. Farenthold Probes IRS Commissioner Koskinen on “Lost” Lerner E-mails, Offers Cost-Effective Plan to Prevent Future Server Crashes
In a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing last evening, U.S. Congressman Blake Farenthold (TX-27) questioned Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen on the agency losing two years’ worth of former IRS official Lois Lerner’s e-mails central to the Congressional probe into the IRS' political targeting. As part of its investigation of revelations that the IRS unfairly targeted conservative groups over their tax-exempt status, the Oversight Committee issued subpoenas for several IRS documents, including 2009 – 2011 e-mail communications of Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS department charged with the targeting. Commissioner Koskinen was summoned to testify last night before the Oversight Committee following the agency’s failure to produce Lerner's subpoenaed e-mails. The IRS recently stated that Lerner's emails were “lost” in a server crash and her computer's hard drive was thrown out, therefore destroying all possible traces of the e-mails.
Congressman Farenthold began his questioning round by expressing the widespread public doubt surrounding the IRS’ “lost” e-mails claim. “The American people don’t believe for a second that [these e-mails] were lost accidentally,” he told Koskinen, before going into specific questions for the IRS Commissioner.
Rep. Farenthold first asked Koskinen to verify the IRS is currently using the print-to-file system lawfully required under the Federal Records Act (FRA), which requires all e-mails to be printed out and filed in storage. He then followed up by asking the Commissioner if the IRS searched for hard copy versions of Lerner’s e-mails. After confirmations by Koskinen on both, Farenthold shifted to the agency’s failure to save versions electronically. “Don’t you think it would have been easier and saved money if you would have had electronic form?” the Congressman asked. “No doubt,” Koskinen answered.
In response to Koskinen’s repeated claim that a lack of resources was to blame for the server crash leading to the loss of Lerner’s e-mails, Rep. Farenthold pointed out that the average American wouldn’t be afforded such an excuse. “If we came back to you and said, ‘Oh, I don’t have the resources to comply with the IRS tax law,’ you wouldn’t let me skate,” said Farenthold. “I don’t think you all should be able to skate on the resources issue,” he added.
The Congressman next turned the tables by proposing a cost-effective plan for the IRS to store e-mail data that would prevent future crashes. “I did this on my cell phone, but you guys have a lot of guys good at math at the IRS. I am going to assume you guys can figure this out since your procedure is to print the records out,” began Farenthold. “I went on and did a Google search to find the averages size of a Word document. You can get 64,782 Word documents of about 9 pages per gigabyte. Terabyte is 1000 gigabytes, so that’s 64.8 million Word documents. I went on Amazon and found you could buy a terabyte hard drive for $59. Buy 2 of them so $120. Statistics in the industry, average cost to print a page of documents is about 5-8 cents, when you included paper, toner, and wear and tear on the printer.”
“If you do that math and multiply it out,” he continued, “it looks to me like you save $21 million on printing feeds, not to mention the greenness of it.”
“How come some of the mathematicians at the IRS didn’t realize this?” asked Farenthold.
After Koskinen’s response that the estimate given to IRS for holding such a large amount of data was $10 - 30 million dollars, Congressman Farenthold pointed out: “$10 million and $21 million dollars to print, you’ve already saved $10 million.”
“And there would be no question you are complying with the Federal Records Act because you are saving everything. You wouldn’t be relying on the judgment.”
“So this ‘lack of resources’ thing doesn’t fly,” concluded Farenthold.