$18 million to recover lost emails?

$18 million to recover lost emails?

Summary: The Congressional inquiry into lost IRS emails shines a bright light on misguided IT investment priorities. Is your organization making the same mistake?

SHARE:
TOPICS: Storage, Government
22
18-million-to-recover-lost-emails

What's wrong with this picture? The IRS has stated that its spent $16-$18 million to recover lost emails for this one inquiry. Why? 

According to estimates, it would cost well over ten million dollars to upgrade the IRS information technology infrastructure in order to save and store all email ever sent or received by the approximately 90,000 current IRS employees.

That estimate sounds low, but a million will buy a large tape library for archiving. But even if the cost were 3 times that, the IRS would have a nice return on its investment based on the savings from this one incident. How many other, smaller Congressional requests are incurring similar costs due to poor archiving practice?

But this isn't just a government problem. All companies are potentially subject to the process of legal discovery in a lawsuit, not unlike the process Congress is forcing on the IRS. 

As soon as litigation can be reasonably expected, companies have a responsibility to protect relevant data. Company lawyers place a "legal hold" corporate data, notifying officers and employees of the requirement. Then that data needs to be segregated and preserved. Not doing so can have costly legal consequences.

In this case, the IRS placed the responsibility for archiving emails on individual employees instead of an automated and searchable archive. Employees typically responded by saving .PST files on their disk drives and when those crashed the "archives" were lost. By the way, Microsoft specifically recommends against using .PST files as archives.

The Storage Bits take  "Penny wise, pound foolish" applies here. We underfund and undermanage critical IT infrastructures and then wonder why things blow up. 

It is ironic that anti-government/anti-tax conservatives, reluctant to fund government properly, are frustrated by the results of their penny-pinching.  But ultimately it is we, the tax payers, who foot the bill for their fake budgetary heroics.

For enterprise IT, this highlights the importance of enlisting support from other stakeholders - such as legal - for making needed investments. It's too easy for the CFO to look at a big capital expense request and just say no - unless other parts of the company are also saying "yes!"

Comments welcome, of course. What's your favorite missed investment opportunity story?

Topics: Storage, Government

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

22 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Pretty much

    Even if the IRS really is running a cover-up operation, it's always better to leave people without plausible excuses. The prosaic aspects of IT are often, if not usually more important than the groundbreaking new technologies people tend to obsess about.
    John L. Ries
  • Politics is a messy game right now

    "anti-government/anti-tax conservatives"

    Wouldn't say that we're totally anti-government or anti-tax. After all, we're not going around saying we want to simply throw the whole thing away, including the constitution.

    I prefer to think of the GOP as minimalists: We want a minimal, focused government, rather than a large, unwieldy one.

    That being said - the GOP hasn't done a great job cutting things, either. Hey look, military spending. And hey look, let's ignore the big elephants in the room (the programs that require hundreds of billions) and focus on the small things (that little million dollar project).

    Meh, at this point, everybody's guilty as charged. Politics is a mess.

    "But ultimately it is we, the tax payers, who foot the bill for their fake budgetary heroics."

    We're footing the bill for the actions of both the GOP and Democrats - medicare, medicaid, social security, and the military. All pretty good chunks of our budget. Wanna cut any of that? Well, you're guaranteed to piss off people. It's basically a no-win right now.

    $20 million to the IRS would be pretty small compared to the big spenders - I'd support it.

    . . . but I will say that I'm not terribly fond of our spending practices, or things like mandatory medical insurance. I do prefer a more focused government that has minimal impact on our lives.
    CobraA1
    • What is reasonable...

      ...is that regardless of what we ask government to do for us, we expect it to do it well and give it the resources it needs to do so (and then insist that it use them effectively). Accordingly, "starve the beast" and other tactics designed to reduce the effectiveness of government tend to do more harm than good (likewise with the liberal trick of trying to frustrate the enforcement of laws one does not like). Much better to make and debate real proposals, even if they lose, than to damage the integrity of the system with guerrilla tactics.
      John L. Ries
      • Agreed.

        "What is reasonable...
        ...is that regardless of what we ask government to do for us, we expect it to do it well and give it the resources it needs to do so (and then insist that it use them effectively). "

        Agreed. Especially the part you put in parenthesis - Effectiveness and efficiency should be priorities.

        Sadly, I don't see a whole lot of that. The IRS story especially drives that home - they were using outdated email tech and policies, as Larry Seltzer found out.

        http://www.zdnet.com/is-the-irs-lost-email-story-plausible-7000030684/

        Unfortunately, I don't think the IRS is an outlier. I've done a bit of contract work here and there, and a lot of places still use practices that I'd consider to be long outdated.
        CobraA1
    • Without getting into a political discussion..

      it should be noted that Social Security is not part of the Federal budget. The only way it's connected is that Congress has raided the Social Security fund to pay for other things. This is why the Federal government owes money to Social Security.

      It is not, in and of itself, a budget item.
      msalzberg
      • It isn't?

        Appears to be there from what I can see . . .

        Page 168, table S-4

        http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2015/assets/budget.pdf
        CobraA1
      • It shouldn't be, but is

        Al Gore proposed taking it off budget when he ran for President in 2000, but I don't think there's been any serious talk about it from those who might be in a position to act on it since then.
        John L. Ries
  • This isn't penny pinching, it's a coverup

    Journaling cost basically nothing, just cheap sata disks are fine this, otherwise exchange offers many ways to archive, using the dag copies or the exchange archiving features.

    Even if .psts were saved on desktops, even the dimmest admin can use robocopy to save these on a archive/backup server automatically.

    Since government they get this exchange software at heavy discounts.

    Total coverup, another scandel just to advance the news cycle.
    everss02
    • Cheap, ad hoc storage...

      ...doesn't work so good. Been there; done that. In the long run, it's cheaper and more effective to spend the money and do it right.
      John L. Ries
  • Huh?

    Is the US Government using some email system created by some high school dropout? If they are using Microsoft Exchange, why aren't their Exchange policies set such to keep emails? (I though government entities were required to keep all this stuff for a number of years?) Can't you get the emails off of the actual "email server"?
    Hemo2
    • The short answer is no.

      IRS IT policy only allowed for email to be stored for 6 months on their servers. After that, the tapes were reused.
      msalzberg
  • What's more ironic....

    "It is ironic that anti-government/anti-tax conservatives, reluctant to fund government properly, are frustrated by the results of their penny-pinching. But ultimately it is we, the tax payers, who foot the bill for their fake budgetary heroics."

    Is how you make taxpayers "think" they have a say so in anything that "really" goes on in our shadow government. If the government can build a multi-billion dollar "spy" network in the state of Utah to do mass surveillance on every last US Citizen....300 million US citizens then why can't they build an archival system to store a few thousand IRS employee emails?

    I am sure all these lost IRS emails are stored on a hard drive somewhere in Utah if they really need to be found.
    j4w4
  • Wouldn't wash...

    here in Germany you have to store all "business relevant" emails for 10 years in an unalterable, undeleteable form - Exchange since 2007, although the implementation there was flawed, 2010 improved that and there are certainly several third party add-ons that go even further.
    wright_is
  • The IRS said so?

    The IRS also said they lost emails that just happened to be subpoenaed. The IRS never lies. :-/
    UnixEvangelist
  • Nice, tangential, anti-republican rant, but...

    "It is ironic that anti-government/anti-tax conservatives, reluctant to fund government properly, are frustrated by the results of their penny-pinching. But ultimately it is we, the tax payers, who foot the bill for their fake budgetary heroics."

    That's a pretty idiotic statement there, and one that tries to provide a simple-minded excuse for the corrupt IRS and Obama administration.

    When a government is spending way over $3 trillion a year, the extra money needed to fund the IRS's funding for handling e-mails correctly, would be very trivial.

    The government spending that republicans complain about, is the wasteful type, which does run into the many tens of billions, and perhaps hundreds of billions.

    Republicans don't negate the use of proper funding for maintaining the needed government infrastructure. The federal government has taken on a lot more functions than they were originally entitled to handle. As examples, Welfare programs, and Medicare/Medicaid, and schools, were not what the federal level of government was created to handle. The federal level's only mandated function, is the national defense. Sure, there are other responsibilities, like national law enforcement agencies, and interstate commerce, but aside from the original duties, the federal government is now spending more money on the "extras" than on the demanded functions.

    The idiocy of people like Robin Harris, is how big government has been allowed to grow at the expense of effective government, and at the expense of economic growth, and at the expense of the freedoms that people aren't even aware they're losing. The IRS scandal is not just a simple IRS/Executive scandal. It's a lot more about the abuse of power, where the party in power is not only going after the opposing party operatives, but against the entire will of the people. The people are being targeted, and not just certain "tea party" or "conservative" groups. That kind of abuse of power requires that, agencies such as the IRS become the targets of oversight by the people, and not the other way around. In that respect, it behooves everyone that, complete and detailed records be maintained, by everyone in government.

    It's quite possible that, the e-mails in question from Lois Lerner were not lost in a damaged hard-drive. I suspect that, the hard-drive was around, and later, after the IRS scandal broke and investigations had started, and requests for e-mail records were made, that somebody at the IRS along with somebody in cahoots in the Obama administration, noticed that, there was a policy for holding onto the records for only six months, and so, "it was decided" that, the hard-drive "had been destroyed" some 3 years ago, and thus, the records would not exist anymore. The IRS policy of keeping just 6 months worth of records, saved the azzes of Lois Lerner and Obama and his cohorts in congress and elsewhere.

    On the other hand, I believe that there exists enough data somewhere, to bring charges and to hold the senior IRS officials, and certain members of congress, and Obama, to justice.
    adornoe1
    • Usually, you only insult people...

      ...after you've lost the argument.
      John L. Ries
    • So which members of Congress do you think...

      need to be "brought to justice"? Remember that under the Constitution are not liable for anything they say in debate (per Article I, Section Section 6), and in practice, are not legally responsible for their votes (except to their colleagues).

      I presume you don't mean the entire Democratic caucuses of both houses (together with the less loyal Republicans).
      John L. Ries
      • Not good to leave out whole phrases

        "Remember that under the Constitution, members of Congress are not liable for anything they say in debate (per Article I, Section Section 6), and in practice, are not legally responsible for their votes (except to their colleagues)."

        Sigh!
        John L. Ries
  • wow

    This "technology" article really jumped the shark there. What's next, bring some religious proselytizing into an article on SSDs?
    frylock
  • A colossal waste of money for a made-up scandal

    From both a tech and investigative viewpoint, the only real scandals here are: the IRS ended up granting *all* of the Tea Party groups 501(c)(4) status, despite many if not most of them being primarily political organizations, and hence not qualified; the IRS ended up spending/wasting about $10 million in utterly pointless, mostly harassing discovery demands for nonexistent evidence for a pretend investigation by House Republicans who apparently never, ever understood how corporate email works in the slightest.

    Gawd....
    JustCallMeBC