IRS 'scandal': Cover up, train wreck or simple mistake?

Thursday - 7/24/2014, 4:32am EDT

Should federal agencies do a better job of keeping track of old data? Should there be an archive of all correspondence and emails? If so, how long should it be kept?

The answer, as it often happens in official Washington, is an unequivocal "it depends!"

The question pops up from time to time, and it's back because of the ongoing scandal at the IRS. The question is: Did certain officials target conservative groups for special (not so nice) tax treatment and, if so (and that is a big and still undecided 'if so'), was it the IRS' Cincinnati kids gone rogue, or did the zap-the-Tea-Party plan come from Washington, D.C.?

Government scandals, real and contrived, are a dime a dozen. They come and go. GSA today, the Secret Service shortly thereafter. Sexual harassment charges, in the military and at DHS. Allegations of qualifications test cheating at a nuclear missile command. Now, at least until after the November elections, it is care denied, maybe lives lost, at the Department of Veterans Affairs. And the IRS story continues to unfold.

Which is very important because...

Given the choice of angering the CIA, Israel's Mossad or the IRS, a lot of in-the-know people would take their chances with the sometimes — we are told — ruthless intelligence-gathering agencies. After all, it was the IRS, not the FBI, that nailed America's Best Known Gangster, Al Capone.

So the ongoing flap at the IRS has got lots of people's attention. Pending smoking gun proof, what happened at the IRS, either an indefensible scandal or just a really bad day at the office, depends, in part, on the politics of those doing the judging.

Washington purports to operate under the what-did-they-know-and-when-did-they-know-it rule. Especially when it applies to a goof, gaf or downright dirty scandal that happened on the opposition's watch.

Presidents in the past, of both political parties, have not been above using (or trying to use) the IRS to punish enemies and stifle competition. The IRS has been good, not perfect but good, in fending off or frustrating political zealots.

The latest flap in the IRS whodunnit is over the missing emails of Lois Lerner, key figure in the ongoing investigation. IRS says the emails or backup tapes were lost or destroyed — that there was no attempt to hide anything.

On Tuesday, an expert on electronic archiving, went on Federal News Radio's Federal Drive show. Nancy Flynn, a founder of ePolicy, told co-hosts Tom Temin and Emily Kopp that IRS and other agencies need to do a better job archiving.

The headlines and TV news ledes for the week have been saying that the IRS scandal should teach agencies to archive, archive, archive! Do they? Think about that.

The flap over the missing emails (and what was or was not in them) made me think of a former colleague. He had joined the news business after a career with an intelligence agency which, if I mentioned it, I would have to kill you.

At any rate, any time we or others sought documents from the government, or corporations, somebody always said they should do a better job of keeping records. To which he interjected "or not." Why, he said, would any outfit, agency or corporation keep and make available smoking gun letters, emails, tapes or film footage that could make it look bad or put some of its top officials in jail. Good point. Naughty, but realistic!

He once said it was "sweet but incredibly naive" for those of us in the media to demand that somebody — an individual, corporation, government executive, whatever — keep, archive and supply to us on-demand material that could put them out of business, or into a federal pen.

Both sides in the open information argument point to the same example: The Nixon tapes. What would have happened if they had been destroyed? Or, if they had been "lost" before they could be released?

Just saying...


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

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(Source: OMG Facts)


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