How Could IRS "Lose" Thousands of Emails?

By JOSH GERSTEIN and RACHAEL BADE | 6/17/14 6:52 PM EDT Updated: 6/18/14 11:11 AM EDT

News that the IRS lost tens of thousands of emails sought by Congress unleashed a loud round of forehead slapping around Washington, and the obvious question: How could this happen?

It seems impossible to some that in this age of digital dominance, emails relating to a controversy involving federal government officials could simply vanish.

But transparency advocates and experts in retrieving email from antiquated government computer systems say they’re not at all surprised. The reason: The IRS’s record-keeping procedures — like erasing backup tapes every six months — have been known for years as critical weaknesses in government record collection. These observers say all of the warning signs were there for years before large troves of messages from as many as six IRS employees caught up in the tea party scandal were destroyed through a combination of equipment failures and inadequate archiving procedures.

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