Taking an important step towards greater transparency and putting an end to banking secrecy in tax matters, the OECD today released the full version of a new global standard for the exchange of information between jurisdictions.
The Standard for Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information in Tax Matters calls on governments to obtain detailed account information from their financial institutions and exchange that information automatically with other jurisdictions on an annual basis. The Standard, developed at the OECD under a mandate from the G20, endorsed by G20 Finance Ministers in February 2014, and approved by the OECD Council.
The Standard provides for annual automatic exchange between governments of financial account information, including balances, interest, dividends, and sales proceeds from financial assets, reported to governments by financial institutions and covering accounts held by individuals and entities, including trusts and foundations. The new consolidated version includes commentary and guidance for implementation by governments and financial institutions, detailed model agreements, as well as standards for harmonised technical and information technology solutions, notably a standard format and requirements for secure transmission of data.
TIGTA — Fiscal Year 2014 Statutory Review of Disclosure of IRS Collection Activity With Respect to Joint Returns
Fiscal Year 2014 Statutory Review of Disclosure of Collection Activity With Respect to Joint Returns
Source: Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration
Highlights of Reference Number: 2014-30-046 to the Internal Revenue Service Commissioners for the Small Business/Self-Employed and Wage and Investment Divisions.
IMPACT ON TAXPAYERS
Internal Revenue Code (I.R.C.) Section (§) 6103(e)(8) gives joint filer taxpayers who are no longer married or no longer reside in the same household the right to request information regarding the IRS’s efforts to collect delinquent taxes on their joint tax return liabilities. If the IRS does not provide employees sufficient guidance for handling those requests, taxpayer rights could potentially be violated.
WHY TIGTA DID THE AUDIT
This audit was initiated because the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 added I.R.C. § 7803(d)(1)(B), which requires TIGTA to annually review and certify the IRS’s compliance with I.R.C. § 6103(e)(8). The objective of this review was to determine whether the IRS is complying with the provisions of I.R.C. § 6103(e)(8) as related to the disclosure of collection activities with respect to joint filers.
WHAT TIGTA FOUND
IRS procedures provide employees with sufficient guidance for handling joint filer collection activity information requests. However, TIGTA could not determine whether the IRS fully complied with I.R.C. § 6103(e)(8) requirements when responding to written collection activity information requests from joint filers. IRS management information systems do not separately record or monitor joint filer requests, and there is no legal requirement for the IRS to do so. Further, TIGTA does not recommend the creation of a separate tracking system.
WHAT TIGTA RECOMMENDED
TIGTA made no recommendations in this report. IRS officials were provided an opportunity to review the draft report and did not provide any comments.
Abuse of Structured Financial Products: Misusing Basket Options to Avoid Taxes and Leverage Limits (hearing and report)
Abuse of Structured Financial Products: Misusing Basket Options to Avoid Taxes and Leverage Limits
Source: Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has scheduled a hearing, “Abuse of Structured Financial Products: Misusing Basket Options to Avoid Taxes and Leverage Limits,” on Tuesday, July 22, 2014, at 9:30 a.m., in Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building.
The Subcommittee hearing will examine a set of transactions that utilize financial engineering and structured financial products to attempt to avoid paying U.S. taxes on short-term capital gains. Witnesses will include representatives of major financial institutions, as well as tax experts from a nonprofit institution and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
US: Terrorism Prosecutions Often An Illusion
Source: Human Rights Watch
The US Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have targeted American Muslims in abusive counterterrorism “sting operations” based on religious and ethnic identity, Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute said in a report released today. Many of the more than 500 terrorism-related cases prosecuted in US federal courts since September 11, 2001, have alienated the very communities that can help prevent terrorist crimes.
The 214-page report, “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions,” examines 27 federal terrorism cases from initiation of the investigations to sentencing and post-conviction conditions of confinement. It documents the significant human cost of certain counterterrorism practices, such as overly aggressive sting operations and unnecessarily restrictive conditions of confinement.
High Interest GAO Report — Information Management: The National Technical Information Service’s Dissemination of Technical Reports Needs Attention
Information Management: The National Technical Information Service’s Dissemination of Technical Reports Needs Attention
Source: Government Accountability Office
The Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service (NTIS) offers a variety of products and information-related services. Its products include a repository of scientific, technical, engineering, and business research reports, which it makes available individually as well as through subscriptions to its reports library. However, from fiscal year 2001 through 2011, costs for NTIS’s products exceeded revenue for 10 of the 11 fiscal years, and the agency was financially sustained during this period by services it offered to other federal agencies, such as distribution and order fulfillment and various web-based services. (See figure.)
In addition, about 62 percent of the reports added to NTIS’s repository between 1990 and 2011 were older—with publications dates in the year 2000 or earlier, while about 38 percent were published from 2001 to 2011. However, demand was greater for more recent reports—those published in 2001 or later.
Further, GAO estimated that 74 percent of the reports added to NTIS’s collection from fiscal year 1990 through 2011 were available elsewhere, and 95 percent of these were available for free. This calls into question the viability and appropriateness of NTIS’s fee-based model for disseminating the reports it collects.
Party Polarization and Campaign Finance
Source: Brookings Institution
There is a lively debate today over whether or not campaign finance reforms have weakened the role of political parties in campaigns. This seems an odd argument in an era of historically high levels of party loyalty — on roll calls in Congress and voting in the electorate. Are parties too strong and unified or too weak and fragmented? Have they been marginalized in the financing of elections or is their role at least as strong as it has ever been? Does the party role in campaign finance (weak or strong) materially shape the capacity to govern?
In addition, the increasing involvement in presidential and congressional campaigns of large donors – especially through Super PACs and politically-active nonprofit organizations – has raised serious concerns about whether the super-wealthy are buying American democracy. Ideologically-based outside groups financed by wealthy donors appear to be sharpening partisan differences and resisting efforts to forge agreement across parties. Many reformers have advocated steps to increase the number of small donors to balance the influence of the wealthy. But some scholars have found evidence suggesting that small donors are more polarizing than large donors. Can that be true? If so, are there channels other than the ideological positioning of the parties through which small donors might play a more constructive role in our democracy?
In this paper, Thomas Mann and Anthony Corrado attempt to shed light on both of these disputed features of our campaign finance system and then assess whether campaign finance reform offers promise for reducing polarization and strengthening American democracy. They conclude that not only is campaign finance reform a weak tool for depolarizing American political parties, but some break in the party wars is probably a prerequisite to any serious pushback to the broader deregulation of campaign finance now underway.
How oil and gas firms gained influence and transformed North Dakota
Source: Center for Public Integrity
Oil development has transformed this state to the point where it’s hard to find a place or person that hasn’t been touched by the boom. Energy companies have drilled more than 8,000 wells into western North Dakota’s rugged prairie since the beginning of 2010, quadrupling the state’s oil production. From July 2011 through June 2013, the state collected $4 billion in oil taxes, and is expecting a $1 billion surplus for the current biennium, not including an oil-funded sovereign wealth fund that will approach a balance of $3 billion. North Dakota is in the uncommon position of facing a labor shortage, spurring a state-run campaign to attract workers, paid for in part by Hess Corp.
In addition to the tax revenue they’ve brought, the oil companies have showered the state with additional money — new millions for universities, museums, hospitals and other charitable causes. They’ve also given hundreds of thousands to politicians, making the sector the largest single source of those contributions. The oil industry is the top contributor to Gov. Jack Dalrymple, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and gave money in all but 10 of the 75 legislative races held in 2012.
Monetary Policy and the Federal Reserve: Current Policy and Conditions (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
The Federal Reserve (the Fed) defines monetary policy as its actions to influence the availability and cost of money and credit. Because the expectations of market participants play an important role in determining prices and economic growth, monetary policy can also be defined to include the directives, policies, statements, and actions of the Fed that influence future perceptions.
Traditionally, the Fed has implemented monetary policy primarily through open market operations involving the purchase and sale of U.S. Treasury securities. The Fed traditionally conducts open market operations by setting an interest rate target with the goal of fulfilling its statutory mandate of “maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.” The interest rate targeted is the federal funds rate, the price at which banks buy and sell reserves on an overnight basis. Beginning in September 2007, in a series of 10 moves, the federal funds target was reduced from 5.25% to a range of 0% to 0.25% on December 16, 2008, where it has remained since.
With the federal funds target at the “zero lower bound,” the Fed has attempted to provide stimulus through unconventional policies. The Fed has provided “forward guidance” on its expectations for future rates, announcing that it “anticipates that, even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping the target federal funds rate below levels the Committee views as normal in the longer run.” The Fed has also added monetary stimulus through unsterilized purchases of Treasury and governmentsponsored enterprise (GSE) securities. This practice is popularly referred to as quantitative easing (“QE”), and it has caused the Fed’s balance sheet to increase to $4.4 trillion at the end of June 2014—five times its pre-crisis size. On September 13, 2012, the Fed began a third round of QE, pledging to purchase GSE mortgage-backed securities and Treasury securities each month until the labor market improves, as long as prices remain stable. In December 2013, the Fed began tapering off (gradually reducing the rate of) its monthly asset purchases. If tapering maintains its current trajectory, asset purchases will end in late 2014.
Do Coastal Building Codes Make Stronger Houses? (PDF)
Source: Cato Institute
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which provides federal flood insurance to property owners in participating communities, is currently $24 billion in debt. The shortfall has long been foreseen by policymakers because the insurance is underpriced, effectively subsidizing property owners of coastal properties. Congress attempted to curtail that subsidy with the 2012 Biggert–Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which was intended to put the burden of flood risk squarely on property owners rather than taxpayers. However, beneficiaries of the subsidies rallied against the legislation, and earlier this year both houses of Congress passed, and President Obama signed, legislation delaying the 2012 subsidy reform.
Communities that participate in the NFIP must adopt the program’s building code, which incorporates minimum building standards set forth by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Economists have theorized that building codes associated with the provision of subsidized insurance may create moral hazard by inducing risk taking. That is, the acquisition of insurance against some contingency is associated with a decreased incentive to avoid or prevent the insured loss because policyholders do not bear the full consequences of their actions. Independent of any insurance provision, moral hazard can also result from a false perception of safety if building codes are not effective.
This article examines the effectiveness of the NFIP’s building code in reducing damages to barrier island property in a hurricane. We determine whether similarly located properties fare better or worse in a hurricane based on the code regime under which they were constructed. We use data from Lee County, Fla., where 2004’s Hurricane Charley made landfall. Our findings raise questions about the optimal scale of code design, and about unintended consequences from building code changes.
Today’s Rising Terrorist Threat and the Danger to the United States: Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of The 9/11 Commission Report
Ten years ago today, we issued The 9/11 Commission Report, the official report of the devastating attacks of September 11, 2001. As we wrote in that report, we were acutely mindful of the responsibility we bore to the American people—and the families of the victims—to provide the most complete account possible of the events leading up to that terrible day. We used what we learned from that awful history to make recommendations as to how to make America safer. Most of those recommendations have been enacted into law or adopted as policy.
A decade later, we are struck by how dramatically the world has changed. In the United States, federal, state, and local authorities have implemented major security reforms to protect the country. Overseas, the United States and allies went on the offensive against al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. Ten years ago, many feared that al Qaeda would launch more catastrophic attacks on the United States. That has not happened. While homegrown terrorists struck Fort Hood and the Boston Marathon, with tragic results, and while major attempted attacks on aviation have been disrupted, no attack on a scale approaching that of 9/11 has taken place.
Chinese Military Modernization and Force Development: Chinese and Outside Perspectives
Source: Center for Strategic & International Studies
The goal behind this report is not to present the authors’ view of the balance, but rather to provide the basis for an unclassified dialogue on the military developments in China, including the size and structure of the country’s current and planned military forces. It draws on official US, Chinese, and other Asian official reporting, as well as the work of other scholars and the data bases developed by the IISS and Jane’s in an effort to compare different views of Chinese strategy and military developments, and is meant to provide US, Chinese, and other analysts with a better basis for understanding Western estimates of the changes in Chinese force strength and force quality.
The United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) face a critical need to improve their understanding of how each is developing its military power and how to avoid forms of military competition that could lead to rising tension or conflict between the two states. This report focuses on China’s military developments and modernization and how they are perceived in the UIS, the West, and Asia. It utilizes the unclassified data available in the West on the trends in Chinese military forces. It relies heavily on the data in the US Department of Defense (DoD) Report to Congress on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, particularly the 2013 and 2014 editions.
It relies heavily on the annual military balances compiled by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), though a range of sources are included. It should be noted that this report focuses on Chinese forces, and therefore presents only one side of the US and Chinese balance and the security situation in Asia. It also draws upon a Burke Chair report entitled The Evolving Military Balance in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, looking at the bilateral US-Chinese balance in more detail.
Accordingly, it focuses on the actual changes taking place in Chinese forces, and it provides a detailed analysis detailed analysis of the trends in Chinese military forces since 1985, examining how the often-conflicting trends in outside sources interact with reporting on Chinese military spending and strategy. It also shows that important changes are taking place in US strategy and that these changes must be considered when evaluating Chinese actions.
New GAO Reports and Testimony
Source: Government Accountability Office
1. Small Business Administration: Office of Advocacy Needs to Improve Controls over Research, Regulatory, and Workforce Planning Activities. GAO-14-525, July 22.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664930.pdf
2. Managing for Results: Enhanced Goal Leader Accountability and Collaboration Could Further Improve Agency Performance. GAO-14-639, July 22.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664922.pdf
3. Telecommunications: FCC Should Improve the Accountability and Transparency of High-Cost Program Funding. GAO-14-587, July 22.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664940.pdf
1. Large Partnerships: Growing Population and Complexity Hinder Effective IRS Audits, by James R. White, director, strategic issues, before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. GAO-14-746T, July 22.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664918.pdf
Defense offsets: From ‘contractual burden’ to competitive weapon
Source: McKinsey & Company
Western defense companies now need to look outside their core markets for growth. In the aftermath of the global economic crisis and over a decade of engagement in southwest Asia, many Western countries have scaled back their defense budgets, favoring instead more targeted spending and austerity plans. In Europe, ministries of defense are downsizing their military operations and procurement programs, and in the United States, the effects of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and sequestration will restrict defense spending through 2021 absent congressional action. By contrast, many countries representing addressable markets in Asia, the Middle East, and South America are investing in defense-modernization programs and over the past few years have increased their defense spending at compound annual growth rates of between 5 and 10 percent.
VA OIG — Administrative Investigation, Prohibited Personnel Practice and Preferential Treatment, National Cemetery Administration, VA Central Office
Administrative Investigation, Prohibited Personnel Practice and Preferential Treatment, National Cemetery Administration, VA Central Office (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General
The former Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs engaged in a prohibited personnel practice when he created a position and preselected an employee for that position. He also engaged in preferential treatment of an NCA contractor when he developed a less-than-arm’s-length relationship with the contractor. Further, NCA improperly gave the contractor sole-source contracts to provide one-to-one services to select NCA employees.
State Government Indigent Defense Expenditures, FY 2008–2012
Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics
Provides data on state government indigent defense expenditures for fiscal years 2008 through 2012. Trends in spending and comparisons with total state government judicial-legal expenditures are also included. The report uses administrative data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Government Finance Survey. This is a companion report to the Census Bureau’s report, Indigent Defense Services in the United States, FY 2008-2012.
- In 2012, state governments spent $2.2 billion nationally on indigent defense, the lowest amount spent during the 5-year period from 2008 to 2012.
- State government indigent defense expenditures showed an average annual decrease of 1.1% from 2008 to 2012.
- From 2011 to 2012, state government indigent defense expenditures decreased by $45 million nationally (down 2.0%).
- As a share of total judicial-legal expenditures by state governments, spending on indigent defense held steady between 9.5% and 10.0% from 2008 to 2012.
New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office
1. Consumer Finance: Credit Cards Designed for Medical Services Not Covered by Insurance. GAO-14-570, June 19.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664256.pdf
Podcast - http://www.gao.gov/multimedia/podcasts/664738
3. African Growth and Opportunity Act: Observations on Competitiveness and Diversification of U.S. Imports from Beneficiary Countries. GAO-14-722R, July 21.
Australia’s female political leaders: a quick guide
Source: Parliamentary Library of Australia
This Quick Guide draws together information about women who have held leadership positions in Australia from Federation to May 2014. It includes vice-regal appointments, presiding officers, government, opposition and parliamentary party leaders, and parliamentary party presidents.
This Quick Guide includes dates in office, positions held and significant firsts. It also includes women who have served as deputy leaders in the Commonwealth Parliament. The final table presents women who have held executive (non-parliamentary) leadership positions in the parliamentary parties.
This information has been compiled from a range of sources including the Commonwealth Parliamentary Handbook, the Australian Electoral Commission, vice-regal, parliamentary and political party websites, biographies and archives relating to women in politics, and media articles relating to individual appointments.
A hyperlink to individual biographies is included where available, together with selected online sources for further reading. Using the arrows that appear in the header, the information may be ordered by name, party, jurisdiction, chamber and year of election/appointment.
The Effects of Premium Subsidies on Demand for Crop Insurance
Source: USDA Economic Research Service
Premium subsidies are a major factor in the current success of the Federal crop insurance program. This study measures the change in crop insurance demand across multiple crops and regions following a legislated increase in subsidies. Findings reveal the influence of premium subsidies on participation in the program.