Washington, DC – The Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) today filed a legal complaint against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and its commissioner, John Koskinen, for refusing to capture and preserve electronic communications of employees that deal with official business, as required by the law.
CoA Institute President & CEO Alfred J. Lechner, Jr.: “The IRS and Commissioner Koskinen have a legal obligation to preserve official work communications between employees. It appears that federal records are being deleted because the IRS, in a deal with its employee union, refuses to preserve certain types of electronic communications. This lawsuit seeks to ensure that IRS follows the law. No agreement with a union or any other party can supersede Americans right to know how the IRS makes decisions.”
Documents obtained by CoA Institute show that the IRS has a private agreement with its employee union stipulating that the agency will not save the instant message records of its employees. But the IRS cannot allow such an agreement to supersede its statutory obligations to preserve records. In addition, the IRS is violating the law by regularly deleting all employee text messages as a matter of convenience.
CoA Institute filed its lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to force the IRS to comply with its obligations under the Federal Records Act (FRA) to capture and preserve all relevant records. The complaint seeks an order from the court to require the IRS to establish appropriate guidelines for the preservation of federal employees’ instant message and text message records and to preserve all such records permanently until the establishment of those guidelines.
Failure to preserve instant messages:
On June 30, 2015, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration issued a report on the hard drive failures within the IRS that resulted in the loss of numerous agency records, including the email communications of Lois Lerner, former head of the IRS tax-exempt organizations unit. That report revealed that the IRS maintained an instant messaging system for employee communications. But as a result of a memorandum of understanding between the IRS and the National Treasury Employees Union, the IRS did not capture, preserve, or retain such instant message records. When CoA Institute submitted a FOIA request seeking information regarding this policy, the IRS confirmed that it “does not capture or maintain” the instant message records of its employees.
Failure to preserve text messages:
As part of an investigation into how federal agencies process their text message records, CoA Institute submitted a FOIA request to the IRS in November, 2014, asking it to produce the text message records of five high-ranking agency officials. In response to that request and in follow-up communications, the IRS revealed that, due to “routine system housekeeping” and “spacing constraints,” text messages are retained for only 14 days and are thereafter deleted.