An industry group specializing in IT asset management has identified six key questions that should be asked by investigators looking into the disappearance of thousands of politically sensitive email at the Internal Revenue Service.
Investigators with the Justice Department and Congress are looking into how two years worth of electronic messages of IRS official Lois Lerner vanished in 2011 when her computer's hard drive crashed.
Lerner is at the center of a congressional investigation on whether the IRS intentionally held up the approval of the tax-exempt applications of conservative groups in the two years leading up to the 2012 elections.
Lerner, who retired from the IRS last September, was the director of the Exempt Organizations office.
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The International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers (IAITAM) released July 21 a half dozen questions the organization believes are important for investigators to ask.
The questions revolve around the IRS' IT asset management practices, which IAITAM experts deal with on a daily basis, the group said.
Lerner emails really lost? 6 questions IRS IT must answer.
Barbara Rembiesa, president and founder of the IAITAM, said the DOJ and Congress should focus on:
1. What happened to the IRS' IT asset managers? Such professionals would have been responsible for ordering the destruction of Lerner's hard drive and documenting the process.
The IRS shuffled out three asset managers from their positions around the time of the May 13, 2013, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report. The study found IRS personnel selected for further review the tax exemption applications of organizations based on their names or policy positions.
"Investigators need to determine if these in-house IT asset managers were removed from the picture as the IRS email investigation heated up," the IAITAM said.
2. Where is the documentation showing Lerner's hard drive was wiped or destroyed? Proper asset management requires clear proof and records of destruction of hardware or data.
3. Were the drives destroyed by an outside vendor or firm? If an IT Asset Destruction (ITAD) firm was used, which is not unusual for government agencies, then they would add an "entire second layer" of documentation of the decision-making process leading up to the hard-drive destruction.
4. What are the IRS' policies and procedures on document retention when hard drives are damaged or destroyed? If the process was followed properly, then there would be documentation showing failed attempts to recover data from the hard drive.
5. What is the disaster recovery policy at the IRS? Data loss is not uncommon at large organizations. What would be unusual is having no way for data recovery.
"Investigators need to understand exactly what the IRS would typically do in this kind of situation, if it was done, and, if not, why not," the IAITAM said.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified that IRS employees were responsible for permanently storing email that they thought were important after they reached their mailbox limit of 150 megabytes, or roughly 1,800 emails.
6. Finally, where are Lerner's emails from her Blackberry smartphone? The IAITAM found it "difficult to imagine" that none of the emails in question did not pass through the IRS official's mobile device.
"If so, there may be a freestanding stream of email records that would not be impacted by the Lerner hard-drive loss," the group said.
The Congressional investigation into Lerner’s tenure at the IRS, and the missing emails, remains ongoing.