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FDA proposes to extend its tobacco authority to additional tobacco products, including e-cigarettes

April 24, 2014 Comments off

FDA proposes to extend its tobacco authority to additional tobacco products, including e-cigarettes
Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

As part of its implementation of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act signed by the President in 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration today proposed a new rule that would extend the agency’s tobacco authority to cover additional tobacco products.

Products that would be “deemed” to be subject to FDA regulation are those that meet the statutory definition of a tobacco product, including currently unregulated marketed products, such as electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), cigars, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels, waterpipe (or hookah) tobacco, and dissolvables not already under the FDA’s authority. The FDA currently regulates cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco, and smokeless tobacco.

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New From the GAO

April 24, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports and Testimony
Source: Government Accountability Office

Reports

1. HUD Rental Assistance Demonstration: Information on Initial Conversions to Project-Based Vouchers. GAO-14-402, April 24.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-402
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662737.pdf

2. Federal Vehicle Collisions and Aftermarket Collision Avoidance Technologies. GAO-14-408R, April 24.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-408R

Testimony

1. Small Business Research Programs: Agencies Did Not Consistently Comply with Spending and Reporting Requirements, by John Neumann, acting director, natural resources and environment, before the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, in Seattle, WA. GAO-14-567T, April 24.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-567T
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662734.pdf

Stress testing: A look into the Fed’s black box

April 24, 2014 Comments off

Stress testing: A look into the Fed’s black box
Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers

On March 26th, the Federal Reserve (Fed) announced the results of its annual Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR). This year the Fed assessed the capital plans of 30 bank holding companies (BHCs) – 12 more than last year – and objected to five plans (four due to deficiencies in the quality of capital planning process, and one for falling below quantitative minimum capital ratios). Two other US BHCs had to “take a mulligan” and quickly resubmit their plans with reduced capital actions to remain above the quantitative floors.

The CCAR 2014 results send two overarching messages: The quality of the capital planning process is now a more prominent aspect of the Fed’s focus (versus just the quantity of capital), and the bar continues to rise, especially for the largest firms. Therefore, BHCs must continue to improve their capital planning processes regardless of whether they meet quantitative capital requirements.

Fed objections this year covered both US and foreign-owned BHCs. Three of the six largest US BHCs were unable to make desired capital distributions, in part due to the Fed using its own forecasting models for the first time (rather than relying on the BHCs’ models). In addition, half of foreign-owned BHCs’ plans (again, three of six) were rejected due to qualitative issues. These outcomes suggest that the Fed will likely continue to use its models to exert downward pressure on stressed capital ratios to keep capital in the system, supplemented by its heightened qualitative assessments.

This A closer look provides our quantitative and qualitative analyses of the CCAR 2014 results and lessons learned, and our view of enhancements needed to meet increasingly heightened regulatory expectations.

Leadership in Action – The Business of Government Magazine Spring 2014

April 24, 2014 Comments off

Leadership in Action – The Business of Government Magazine Spring 2014
Source: IBM Center for the Business of Government

This edition of The Business of Government magazine underscores the importance of correlating short-term decision-making with long-range consequences. We highlight the latest trends and best practices for improving government effectiveness by introducing you to key government executives, detailing the work of public management practitioners, and offering insights from leading academics.

CRS Memo — Prosecutions for Contempt of Congress and the Fifth Amendment

April 24, 2014 Comments off

Prosecutions for Contempt of Congress and the Fifth Amendment (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform)

This memorandum responds to your request for information about invocation of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in congressional hearings and contempt of Congress. Specifically, you asked for previous instances in which a witness before a congressional committee was voted in contempt of Congress and then prosecuted for refusing to answer the committee’s questions or produce documents pursuant to a subpoena after invoking the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Additionally, you asked for information on whether any subsequent convictions for contempt of Congress under 2 U.S.C. §§ 192, 194 were upheld or overturned.

The table below provides the requested information based on search of federal court cases in the LexisNexis database.

Cigarette Smuggling: A National Problem and Lucrative Criminal Enterprise

April 24, 2014 Comments off

Cigarette Smuggling: A National Problem and Lucrative Criminal Enterprise
Source: Tax Foundation

Increased excise taxes on cigarettes have created lucrative incentives for black market trafficking between states, with illegal sales on the rise nationwide, according to the latest report from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.

Released this morning, the report’s key findings include:

  • Large differentials in cigarette taxes across states create incentives for black market sales.
  • Smuggled cigarettes make up substantial portions of cigarette consumption in many states, and greater than 25 percent of consumption in twelve states.
  • The highest inbound cigarette smuggling rates are in New York (56.9 percent), Arizona (51.5 percent), New Mexico (48.1 percent), Washington (48 percent), and Wisconsin (34.6 percent).
  • The highest outbound smuggling rates are in New Hampshire (24.2 percent), Wyoming (22.3 percent), Idaho (21.3 percent), Virginia (21.1 percent), and Delaware (20.9 percent).
  • Cigarette tax rates increased in 30 states and the District of Columbia between 2006 and 2012.

The “Amazon Tax”: Empirical Evidence From Amazon and Main Street Retailers

April 24, 2014 Comments off

The “Amazon Tax”: Empirical Evidence From Amazon and Main Street Retailers (PDF)
Source: National Bureau of Economic Research

Several states have recently implemented laws requiring the collection of sales tax on online purchases. In practice, however, only Amazon.com has been affected. We find that households living in these states reduce Amazon expenditures by 9.5%, implying an elasticity of –1.3. We find the effect to be more pronounced for large purchases, for which we estimate an elasticity of –3.2. Further, we find that the decline in Amazon purchases is offset by a 2.0% increase in purchases at local brick-and-mortar retailers and a 19.8% increase in purchases at the online operations of competing retailers.

See also: An Analysis of Internet Sales Taxation and the Small Seller Exemption (U.S. Small Business Administration)

Income of the Population 55 or Older, 2012 (released April 2014)

April 23, 2014 Comments off

Income of the Population 55 or Older, 2012
Source: Social Security Administration

This biennial report presents detailed statistical information on the major sources and amounts of income for people aged 55 or older. The tabulations focus on the major sources of total income by age, sex, marital status, race, and Hispanic origin. Several tables describe the economic situation of the aged with varying levels of Social Security benefits. Their poverty status is presented in terms of the income of the families they live with.

New From the GAO

April 23, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Telecommunications: Projects and Policies Related to Deploying Broadband in Unserved and Underserved Areas. GAO-14-409, April 23.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-409
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662712.pdf

2. Warfighter Support: DOD Policy and Implementation Plan for Reconstitution of Forces. GAO-14-530R, April 23.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-530R

HHS OIG — Annual Fee on Branded Prescription Drug Companies Under the Affordable Care Act

April 23, 2014 Comments off

Annual Fee on Branded Prescription Drug Companies Under the Affordable Care Act
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General

WHY WE DID THIS STUDY
Section 9008 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as amended, directs branded prescription drug companies to pay to the Secretary of the Treasury fees totaling $2.5 billion in 2011, $2.8 billion in 2012, and $2.8 billion in 2013. Companies are required to pay their fees to the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) each year by September 30. An amount equal to the fees received by Treasury each year is to be transferred to the Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance (Medicare Part B) Trust Fund (hereinafter referred to as the Trust Fund). The total annual fee amount to be paid will rise to $4.1 billion in 2018, then will return to $2.8 billion in 2019 and remain at that level thereafter.

HOW WE DID THIS STUDY
We requested from CMS the total amount received by the Trust Fund for the 2011 and 2012 fee years and the dates these transfers were completed. We then compared these data to the Trust Fund data publicly available on Treasury’s Web site. We also requested CMS’s policies and procedures, conducted interviews, and sent questionnaires to the agency regarding these fees.

WHAT WE FOUND
We found that the Trust Fund received $2.5 billion for the 2011 fee, which equals the full amount that was to be paid by the companies for 2011. Of this amount, $1.876 billion was received by the Trust Fund in September 2011 and $624 million was received in December 2011. For the 2012 fee, the Trust Fund received all but $245,000 of the $2.8 billion amount that the ACA provides for the 2012 fee. The Trust Fund received $2.184 billion in September 2012, $603 million in April 2013, and $13 million in May 2013. According to CMS, after we sent our data request for the 2011 and 2012 fee years, the Trust Fund received approximately $2.6 billion in October 2013 and $199 million in December 2013, which is all but $693,000 of the $2.8 billion amount that the ACA provides for the 2013 fee. This means that between September 2011 and December 2013, the Trust Fund received all but $938,000 of the total $8.1 billion amount the ACA provides for the first 3 fee years. For the 2011 and 2012 fees, CMS used data that it received from Treasury to report on the fee’s activity and make actuarial projections.

WHAT WE CONCLUDE
Although the funds from the annual fee are allocated to the Part B Trust Fund, the ACA grants to Treasury the responsibility of administering the fee process, including transferring the fee to the Trust Fund. To the extent that the fees were not in the Trust Fund, the Trust Fund may have missed an opportunity to earn interest income on these fees. Our results indicate that it may be beneficial for CMS to periodically monitor the status of this fee in the Trust Fund, and to contact Treasury if CMS finds that the full amount to be collected under the ACA each year has not been received.

TIGTA Report: IRS Awards Program Complies with Federal Regulations; Some Employees with Tax and Conduct Issues Received Awards

April 23, 2014 Comments off

TIGTA Report: IRS Awards Program Complies with Federal Regulations; Some Employees with Tax and Conduct Issues Received Awards
Source: Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration

While an award program for Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees complies with Federal regulations, some employees with tax and conduct issues received awards, according to a report released publicly today by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).

“These awards are designed to recognize and reward IRS employees for a job well done, and that is appropriate, because the IRS should encourage good performance,” said J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. “However, while not prohibited, providing awards to employees who have been disciplined for failing to pay Federal taxes appears to create a conflict with the IRS’s charge of ensuring the integrity of the system of tax administration,” he added.

TIGTA conducted its audit because new Federal guidance issued in FY 2011 requires agencies to reduce spending on awards programs beginning in FY 2012. The overall objective of TIGTA’s review was to evaluate the IRS’s compliance with procedures for expenditures on awards and to review the IRS’s controls over awards made to employees with conduct and performance issues.

TIGTA found that the IRS awards program complied with Federal requirements to limit awards expenditures and saved additional funds by keeping aggregate incentive payments, individual employee compensation, and aggregate awards below the Federal limits. For FY 2011, the IRS awarded almost $92 million in cash and almost 520,000 hours of time off to 70,500 of its approximately 104,400 employees. For FY 2012, the IRS awarded $86 million in cash and almost 490,000 hours of time off to 67,870 of its approximately 98,000 employees.

However, between October 1, 2010 and December 31, 2012, more than 2,800 employees with recent substantiated conduct issues resulting in disciplinary action received more than $2.8 million in monetary awards and more than 27,000 hours in time-off awards. Among these, more than 1,100 IRS employees with substantiated Federal tax compliance problems received more than $1 million in cash awards and more than 10,000 hours in time-off awards.

TIGTA recommended that the IRS Human Capital Officer determine the feasibility of implementing a policy requiring management to consider conduct issues resulting in disciplinary actions, especially the nonpayment of taxes, prior to awarding all types of performance and discretionary awards.

The IRS agreed with TIGTA’s recommendation and plans to conduct a study by June 30, 2014 for the implementation of such a policy.

Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens (PDF)
Source: Perspectives on Politics (forthcoming)

Each of four theoretical traditi ons in the study of Am erican politics – which can be characterized as theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic Elite Domination, and two types of interest group pluralism, Majoritarian Pluralism and Biased Pluralism – offers different predictions about which sets of actors have how much influence over public policy: average citizens; economic elites; and organized interest groups, mass-based or business-oriented.

A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model. This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.

New From the GAO

April 22, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Report and Testimony
Source: Government Accountability Office

Report

1. Department of Defense’s Waiver of Competitive Prototyping Requirement for the Air Force’s B-2 Defensive Management System Modernization Program. GAO-14-522R, April 22.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-522R

Testimony

1. VA Construction: VA’s Actions to Address Cost Increases and Schedule Delays at Denver and Other Major Medical-Facility Projects, by Lorelei St. James, director, physical infrastructure issues, before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, in Denver, CO. GAO-14-548T, April 22.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-548T
Highlights: http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662690.pdf

CRS — Implementation of Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS): Issues for Congress

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Implementation of Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS): Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implements the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) regulations, which regulate security at high-risk facilities possessing more than certain amounts of one or more chemicals of interest. Facilities possessing more than the specified amount must register with DHS through this program (a process known as the Top- Screen) and perform security-related activities. The DHS identifies a subset of high-risk chemical facilities from among those that register. These high-risk chemical facilities must submit a security vulnerability assessment, which DHS uses to confirm their high-risk designation, and a site security plan, which DHS then authorizes. The DHS also inspects high-risk chemical facilities for adherence to their submitted site security plans and later for compliance with these plans following DHS approval. The DHS regulates approximately 4,300 facilities under this program and is in the process of implementing requirements for security vulnerability assessment, site security planning, and inspection.

The DHS has had challenges meeting its own projections and congressional expectations regarding program performance, raising questions about its ability to achieve steady-state regulatory implementation.

CRS — Security Assistance Reform: “Section 1206″ Background and Issues for Congress

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Security Assistance Reform: “Section 1206″ Background and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2006, as amended and regularly extended, provides the Secretary of Defense with authority to train and equip foreign military forces for two specified purposes—counterterrorism and stability operations—and foreign security forces for counterterrorism operations. Section 1206 authority now extends through FY2017.

CRS — U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel

April 22, 2014 Comments off

U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This report provides an overview of U.S. foreign assistance to Israel. It includes a review of past aid programs, data on annual assistance, and an analysis of current issues. For general information on Israel, see CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti.

CRS — The Federal Budget: Overview and Issues for FY2015 and Beyond

April 22, 2014 Comments off

The Federal Budget: Overview and Issues for FY2015 and Beyond (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The federal budget is central to Congress’s ability to exercise its “power of the purse.” Each fiscal year Congress and the President undertake a variety of steps intended to set levels of spending and revenue and to make policy decisions. The purpose of this report is to provide an overview and background on the current budget debate. This report will track legislative events related to the federal budget and will be updated as budgetary legislation moves through Congress.

CRS — What Is the Farm Bill? (updated)

April 22, 2014 Comments off

What Is the Farm Bill? (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The farm bill is an omnibus, multi-year piece of authorizing legislation that governs an array of agricultural and food programs. Titles in the most recent farm bill encompassed farm commodity price and income supports, farm credit, trade, agricultural conservation, research, rural development, bioenergy, foreign food aid, and domestic nutrition assistance. Although agricultural policies sometimes are created and changed by freestanding legislation or as part of other major laws, the farm bill provides a predictable opportunity for policy makers to comprehensively and periodically address agricultural and food issues. The farm bill is renewed about every five years.

CRS — Campaign Contribution Limits: Selected Questions About McCutcheon and Policy Issues for Congress

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Campaign Contribution Limits: Selected Questions About McCutcheon and Policy Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Recently invalidated aggregate limits on federal campaign contributions capped the total amount that one can give to all candidates, parties, or political action committees (PACs). For the 2014 election cycle, the aggregate limit for individual contributions was $123,200.The Supreme Court of the United States struck down the aggregate limits on April 2, 2014. Alabama contributor Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee (RNC) brought the case, McCutcheon v. FEC, after the aggregate limits prevented McCutcheon from contributing as desired to federal candidates and parties during the 2012 election cycle. The decision does not affect “base limits” that individuals may contribute to particular candidates or parties. Instead, McCutcheon permits individuals to give limited contributions to an unlimited number of candidates, political parties, and political action committees.

This report offers a preliminary analysis of major policy issues and potential implications that appear to be most relevant as the House and Senate decide whether or how to respond to McCutcheon. With the aggregate limits relaxed, additional funds might flow to candidate committees, party committees, or PACs. Joint fundraising committees and leadership PACs might expand as tools to funnel large contributions to multiple candidate committees, parties, or PACs. Disclosure of contributors who exceed the current aggregate limits might also be a policy concern. It is important to note that whether these possibilities will occur is unclear at this time.

This report will be updated to reflect major developments. This version of the report supersedes previous versions.

CRS — Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress (updated)

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Prior to 1984, neither federal civil service employees nor Members of Congress paid Social Security taxes, nor were they eligible for Social Security benefits. Members of Congress and other federal employees were instead covered by a separate pension plan called the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). The 1983 amendments to the Social Security Act (P.L. 98-21) required federal employees first hired after 1983 to participate in Social Security. These amendments also required all Members of Congress to participate in Social Security as of January 1, 1984, regardless of when they first entered Congress. Because CSRS was not designed to coordinate with Social Security, Congress directed the development of a new retirement plan for federal workers. The result was the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act of 1986 (P.L. 99- 335).

Congressional pensions, like those of other federal employees, are financed through a combination of employee and employer contributions. All Members pay Social Security payroll taxes equal to 6.2% of the Social Security taxable wage base ($117,000 in 2014). Members first covered by FERS prior to 2013 also pay 1.3% of full salary to the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund (CSRDF). Members of Congress first covered by FERS in 2013 contribute 3.1% of pay to the CSRDF. Members of Congress first covered by FERS after 2013 contribute 4.4% of pay to the CSRDF. In 2014, Members covered by CSRS Offset pay 1.8% of the first $117,000 of salary, and 8.0% of salary above this amount, into the CSRDF.

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