IRS has ‘no excuses’ for latest twist in email saga, says IT expert

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The IRS has “no excuses” for the latest twist in the saga of its missing emails, says an expert in electronic discovery.

“Whether it’s incompetence or deliberate obstruction, the IRS has no excuses for having handled this so poorly,” said Bruce Webster, partner at Provo, Utah-based IT consulting and expert witness firm Ironwood Experts.

House investigators said Tuesday that a hard drive belonging to Lois Lerner, the former agency official at the center of the department’s targeting scandal, was just “scratched,” not irreparably damaged. The IRS had described the hard drive’s data as “unrecoverable.”

The hard drive, which was recycled, contained roughly two years of missing emails seen as relevant to the investigation into the scandal.

Data, however, can be easily retrieved from scratched drives, according to Webster. “This happens all the time,” he told “There are little storefront companies in just about every major city that can do this and there are forensic companies that can restore files and even do higher end recovery of data.”

Webster explained that, even when a drive’s file directory is damaged or destroyed, information still can be recovered from the magnetic disk where data is stored, known as a drive platter.

Hard drives can become scratched when a read-write head that is meant to operate just above the platter touches down on the magnetic disk. Webster, who has served as a consulting and IT expert in more than 80 civil lawsuits, told that this can be caused by a physical jolt, or, in some case, a mechanical failure.

Last month the IRS explained that Lerner’s computer crashed in mid-2011, with the data stored on the computer’s hard drive deemed “unrecoverable.”

Officials sought to piece together as many of Lerner’s emails as possible, which included searching for emails across the organization where she appeared either as author or recipient. As a result, the IRS was able to identify approximately 24,000 Lerner-related emails between January 1, 2009, and April 2011.

In a court filing on July 18, the agency again stated that the data on the hard drive was unrecoverable.

“It is unbelievable that we cannot get a simple, straight answer from the IRS about this hard drive,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, in a statement released on Tuesday.  “The Committee was told no data was recoverable and the physical drive was recycled and potentially shredded.  To now learn that the hard drive was only scratched, yet the IRS refused to utilize outside experts to recover the data, raises more questions about potential criminal wrongdoing at the IRS.”

The IRS has not yet responded to’s request for comment.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers