IRS makes progress on email archive

IRS on the road to electronic archives for email

The IRS is making headway in improving its data access and retention practices.

That’s according to Ed Killen, the IRS' director of privacy, governmental liaison and disclosure, who told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Feb. 11 about advances in the agency’s move to electronically archived records.

"We're making significant progress," Killen said.  The email messages of senior IRS executives are being archived in electronically accessible formats in perpetuity, while the second tier of managers will have their messages stored for 15 years. He said the goal is to have all employees' email archived electronically by the end of the year, as part of a plan to move away from an approach that has long relied on printing and filing and the use backup tapes.

Killen acknowledged the benefits of a fully digitized system and said, "Ideally, you would want to be able to do keyword searches" to fulfill document production requests.

Shifting to an electronic archive will involve moving email servers into two main data centers, said IRS Chief Technology Officer Terry Milholland.

Jeff Tribiano, deputy commissioner for operations at the IRS, said the agency is also beginning to store hard-drive information on networked databases rather than on backup tapes.

Although Killen said the IRS generally complies with guidance from the National Archives and Records Administration, "we certainly have work to do."

The hearing also offered a glimpse down the government's incident-disclosure rabbit hole.

As Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) noted, lawmakers began their latest look into IRS records management in January, when they learned that the IRS had wiped the hard drive of a former employee involved in litigation with Microsoft.

Weeks later, the IRS reported that it had copied the data after all, but by then the committee was interested in the IRS' Feb. 3 hardware failure. Finally, on Feb. 8, the committee asked Milholland for more details about "the breach" -- by which they meant the hardware failure -- and Milholland apparently misunderstood and revealed for the first time that the agency had suffered a bot attack.

"If we hadn't started asking about another incident, we wouldn't have known about this incident," Chaffetz said of the bot attack.

This article originally appeared on FCW, a sister site to GCN.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a staff writer covering digital citizen services, workforce issues and a range of civilian federal agencies.

Before joining FCW in 2015, Noble served as assistant editor at the viral news site TheBlaze, where he wrote a mix of business, political and breaking news stories and managed weekend news coverage. He has also written for online and print publications including The Washington Free Beacon, The Santa Barbara News-Press, The Federalist and Washington Technology.

Noble is a graduate of Saint Vincent College, where he studied English, economics and mathematics.

Click here for previous articles by Noble, or connect with him on Twitter: @thezachnoble.


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