The Paper Trail at the I.R.S.
As you are probably aware, Sareen and Associates sometimes represents their tax clients before the I.R.S. regarding audits, collections matters, settlements and more. Our clients are often surprised by the fact that our CPA repeatedly tells them to note all conversations with I.R.S. officials, keep multiple copies of all correspondence, etc..
“Isn’t everything done electronically now? Aren’t there plenty of backups at IRS if something gets lost, or the case gets transferred to somebody else?”
The answer is, “Well, sometimes. Umm, mostly.” As a current news story relates, Lois Lerner, the former I.R.S. official who is accused of singling out Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny by the I.R.S., reportedly has lost all the copies of emails concerning the alleged inequitable treatment because she didn’t back those emails up on an external hard drive.
But as this article points out, Ms. Lerner was not required to back up those emails on a hard drive, or in the cloud. That’s not an I.R.S. requirement for internal or external correspondence. Instead, incredulously, the I.R.S. requires their employees to back up everything on paper. That’s right – they’re supposed to print everything out on pieces of paper and put those papers in a file cabinet.
If you’ve ever tried to print out huge numbers of individual emails on paper, you know how long this can take. Government employees know this, too, so they put it off as long as possible. Apparently, the story line here is that Lois Lerner also put off this onerous, laborious task for quite awhile and her computer hard drive crashed before she got around to it. And now those emails, generally kept as PST files in the email program, are gone.
So, bad policy in terms of backing up data. But, what about when you need to find something after it’s been filed? Can you imagine how long that retrieval might take? Can you imagine how many things could go wrong in terms of the piece of paper going missing, or misfiled, or damaged, or something else?
This is not a good archiving system.
The I.R.S. is acutely aware of it’s shortcomings in this area, but, as the article points out, the agency is hamstrung by government regulations regarding data backup, and have to work within a broken construct.
Sareen and Associates cannot fix the internal problems of the I.R.S., but we will continue to remind our tax clients to:
- Save everything you receive or send to the I.R.S.
- Make multiple copies – digital and paper copies
You simply cannot rely on the I.R.S. to accurately retrieve copies of correspondence between you and the agency.