Big Data

IRS Seeks to Destroy More Hard Drives -- The Right Way This Time

Lois Lerner's emails were destroyed when her hard drive was destroyed, IRS has said.

Lois Lerner's emails were destroyed when her hard drive was destroyed, IRS has said. // J. Scott Applewhite/AP file photo

Amid criticism of its mishandling of one particular subpoenaed hard drive, the Internal Revenue Service is seeking the help of contractors to destroy another 75,000 storage devices, including 3,225 old hard drives and 5,856 floppy disks.

Since 2008, the agency has amassed half a million pieces of electronic storage media, some that includes personally identifiable taxpayer information, the agency said. Most -- more than 375,000 pieces -- have already been destroyed. But the rest of the magnetic disks, floppy disks, hard drives, USB drives, magnetic tapes, cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs and various other memory components await destruction in secure storage facilities.

The IRS wants all old electronic media shipped to a single IRS facility for consolidation and final destruction on a yearly basis, according to new contracting documents.

“The IRS is entrusted with a tremendous amount of sensitive information,” the solicitation said. Properly destroying devices that hold such information will "preserve and enhance public confidence by advocating for the protection and proper use of identity information."

The agency also said it is in the process of “refreshing IRS employees’ awareness of existing policies and procedures” for handling sensitive information. Employees have been asked to review their own digital and paper files for sensitive information they no longer need to have in their possession and decide if this data should be archived or destroyed. They should also properly encrypt or safeguard sensitive information they do need, according to existing policy.

The procurement calls for destruction according to guidelines from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Items containing highly secure information should be disintegrated, pulverized, melted or incinerated, probably at a metal destruction facility or licensed incineration facility. Paper and flexible diskettes can be shredded, IRS said.

Less-secure information can be destroyed with on-site mobile destruction equipment. None of the equipment may be used again and the contractor must provide a certificate of destruction.

The IRS has come under fire this summer for several missteps, including reporting that a hard drive containing information that had been subpoenaed months earlier by lawmakers had been destroyed after crashing in 2011. The agency, however, was unable to provide details of the destruction, fueling debate over whether the agency is trying to cover up wrongdoing or simply had dismal information technology processes in place.

The solicitation, which was posted Monday, has a fast turnaround. Responses are due July 25.

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