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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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June 26th, 2014
06:14 PM ET

The case of the missing government e-mails

(CNN) – If every federal worker in the executive branch alone sends and receives as many e-mails as an average business user, that would be more than 326,000,000 per day, or 3,777 every second.

That's a lot to keep track of, and now not only the IRS, but also the EPA is saying, specifically EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, "... we may have some e-mails that we cannot produce that we should have kept."

The IRS boss says part of the problem is budget cuts that have made it hard to improve or even maintain the government's vast network of computers.

"Since January 1 of this year, for example, over 2,000 IRS employees have suffered hard drive crashes," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told Congress.

Still, by losing those records and not reporting it, "they did not follow the law," said U.S. archivist David Ferriero.

This is a longstanding problem.

Back in 2008, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington noted that many agencies still print out documents, and then physically store the paper. And millions of important records have been lost in the controversial firings of those U.S. attorneys under President George W. Bush, some of the infamous "torture memos," and in the Bernie Madoff investigation.

Such exchanges between government officials are pure gold to watchdog groups.

"It's unguarded moments when they say what they're really thinking," says Anne Weismann, of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

That's "exactly" what you want kept, she says.

"This would be laughable if it wasn't so serious," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said at a congressional hearing.

And sometimes it is laughable anyway. When asked if she even recalled who worked on the computers that held those all important records, former IRS attorney told Congress: "I think his first name may have been Ben."

Undeniably many government agencies try to manage the avalanche of information, but often it sounds like the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Even if they keep all those e-mails, where are the important ones?

Maybe Ben knows.

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