If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you are (1) an information governance junkie, (2) a ZL employee, or (3) you have way too much time on your hands. If all three are the case, Ross, please get back to that spreadsheet you owe me.
As for the rest of you, I’m sure you’ve been following the IRS email scandal. Not that you really had a choice. If you go to any blog or site related to eDiscovery, records management, tax preparation, anarchy, gluten-free cooking, etc., you’ve come across someone’s take on how the IRS could have done a better job managing email retention. Email is such an ingrained and seemingly “basic” part of our personal and work lives that a famous organization’s failure to manage it is particularly satisfying… especially when that organization is known for delivering a necessary ill that is equaled in certainty only by death. Too bad they didn’t extend that philosophy of certainty to their own data management.
Even The Daily Show has taken its shots at IRS email retention. If you have a few minutes, I highly recommend taking a peek at the satisfyingly derisive clip.
What’s interesting is the IRS is not the only federal agency in the spotlight over lost emails. The EPA now also has its own battle to fight.
And this certainly isn’t anything new. Both the current and previous presidential administrations faced well documented struggles with capturing and producing their own email. Even the NSA, perennial cloaked wizard of all things data-y, has come up short in locating their internal messages, claiming their data environment is so paradoxically complex that they can’t retrieve the information that’s actually being requested. Ironically, some members of Congress now want the NSA tasked with “finding lost email” from the IRS. Sure, government inefficiency is the beloved punch-line of many a joke. But this one practically wrote itself.
Such shortcomings are certainly not limited to the federal government. Many private organizations find themselves in similar situations, but their consequences generally involve adverse inferences and monetary sanctions rather than very public Congressional hearings.
In the end, the lesson of the day is to be prepared for the worst before the worst occurs. Most importantly, find a way to ensure required information is being properly retained and is searchable. Having the right data does you little good if you cannot find what is needed in a reasonable amount of time. If you wait until the need arises, you’ve likely waited too long.