Senior Internal Revenue Service officials—including one at the heart of the IRS “targeting” scandal—violated agency policies and possibly federal records laws by using private email to send confidential taxpayer information, the GOP-led House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said in a letter.
In a Sept. 30 letter to IRS Acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel obtained by the Free Beacon, Oversight Chairman Darrel Issa (R., Calif.) said an investigation revealed a "troubling pattern" of at least four top IRS officials using their private email addresses to relay confidential tax information.
“This not only raises the prospect of violations of the Federal Records Act but it also raises data security concerns and violates internal IRS policies,” Issa wrote to Werfel.
The committee discovered the emails while investigating the ongoing IRS scandal that began earlier this year when an official admitted that the agency targeted conservative groups during the 2012 election.
Lois Lerner, who headed the IRS’ tax-exempt division at the heart of the scandal, is one of the officials named in Issa’s letter.
Issa said the committee’s investigation produced more than 1,600 pages of emails and documents housed in Lerner’s nonofficial email account related to IRS business, including nearly 30 pages of confidential taxpayer information. Included in the material was a summary of an application for tax-exempt status the IRS instructed Lerner's legal counsel to redact.
Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment rights and refused to testify before the Oversight Committee earlier this year. She retired last month while an internal IRS probe was still ongoing, guaranteeing her a federal pension.
Among the other three officials named by Issa were IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, who stepped down following last year’s election.
Issa wrote that Judith Kendell, the senior technical adviser of the Exempt Organization Division, did not notify the IRS of work emails housed on her private account, despite a request by the agency to employees.
“According to the IRS, you did not inform the IRS that you had such documents housed in your non-official email,” Issa wrote. “The discovery of these documents suggest that you were not forthcoming to the IRS about documents related the Committee's investigation in your personal possession.”
Issa said the committee’s findings suggest “such use is a systemic problem throughout the IRS.”
"This is also a concern to the committee because federal taxpayer information cannot be shared on nonsecure, nonofficial systems,” he wrote.
IRS policies prohibit employees from sending confidential taxpayer information through non-official channels. Federal statutes also strictly prohibit the IRS from releasing taxpayer information.
Additionally, federal employees are prohibited from using private email accounts to conduct official business, unless they copy their official accounts on such messages to ensure they are properly recorded.
The IRS public affairs office is closed due to the ongoing government shutdown, so the agency was not available for comment.
As reported by the Free Beacon, the Environmental Protection Agency has also been under investigation for using private email accounts for official business.
Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson used her home email address to correspond with a lobbyist, and she also maintained a secondary government account under the alias “Richard Windsor.” Several other top EPA administrators were discovered to have used private email as well.
The agency's inspector general released a report last month finding top-level employees did not intentionally try to skirt records law, but it found the agency was not adequately training employees on record-keeping practices.