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Misplaced Priorities: How the Social Security Administration Sacrificed Quality for Quality in the Disability Determination Process

December 18, 2014 Comments off

Misplaced Priorities: How the Social Security Administration Sacrificed Quality for Quality in the Disability Determination Process
Source: U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Key Findings:

  • All of the 48 ALJ focused reviews conducted by SSA and reviewed by Committee staff showed numerous deficiencies in ALJ decision-making and several disturbing patterns. ALJs conducted few or inadequate hearings, misused vocational experts, failed to properly assess work ability and relied too heavily on medical briefs prepared by claimants’ paid representatives. (p. 13)
  • SSA continues to allow ALJs to decide cases even when they demonstrate gross incompetence or negligence in handling their responsibilities. In several cases, SSA did not inform the ALJ about the negative focused review for over eight months after the review was completed. (p. 28)
  • SSA was singularly focused on churning out a large volume of dispositions, which led to inappropriate benefit awards. In 2007, the agency directed ALJs to decide 500 to 700 decisions each year, without conducting any study to determine how long it takes ALJs to evaluate cases and issue informed decisions.
  • SSA encouraged ALJs to take shortcuts in deciding cases to increase the amount of decisions issued each year. The agency promoted on-the-record decisions, which do not require a hearing, and bench decisions, which do not require a written opinion, to increase the number of decisions issued.
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IBM Study: Organizations Struggling to Defend Against Sophisticated Cyber Attacks

December 18, 2014 Comments off

IBM Study: Organizations Struggling to Defend Against Sophisticated Cyber Attacks
Source: IBM

More than 80 percent of security leaders believe the challenge posed by external threats is on the rise, while 60 percent also agree their organizations are outgunned in the cyber war, according to findings released today by IBM (NYSE: IBM). The study additionally reveals that technology is seen as a critical component in addressing these security issues and threats, with big data, cloud and mobile named as the most significant areas of prioritization.

IBM’s third annual Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) study was conducted by the IBM Center for Applied Insights and is based on responses from 138 in-depth interviews with the surveyed organizations most senior security leaders. Sophisticated external threats were identified by 40 percent of security leaders as their top challenge with regulations coming in a distant second at just under 15 percent. As enterprise leaders continue to outline business priorities, external threats will require the most organizational effort over the next three to five years – as much as regulations, new technologies, and internal threats combined.

Anti-Terrorist/Anti-Money Laundering Information-Sharing by Financial Institutions under FINCEN’s Regulations, CRS Legal Sidebar (December 10, 2014)

December 18, 2014 Comments off

Anti-Terrorist/Anti-Money Laundering Information-Sharing by Financial Institutions under FINCEN’s Regulations, CRS Legal Sidebar
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Information-sharing programs developed by Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN) to implement section 314 of the USA PATRIOT Act have been designed to aid law enforcement investigation and prosecution of money laundering and terrorist financing. Because funds from criminal activity and funds headed to terrorist organizations must pass through the financial system, the FINCEN information-sharing programs have been the means of quickly identifying financial transactions tied to crimes or terrorist organizations under investigation. The section 314 programs supplement more general Bank Secrecy Act requirements, such as the Currency Transaction Reports (CTRs) on cash transactions of $10,000 or more, and the Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) on transactions suspected to involve criminal activity.

Global trade increasingly obstructed, EU Report says

December 18, 2014 Comments off

Global trade increasingly obstructed, EU Report says
Source: European Commission

The tendency to impose trade-restricting measures remains strong among the EU’s commercial partners, fuelling continuing uncertainty in the world economy. These are the main findings of the European Commission’s annual report on protectionism published today 17 November.

In the 13 months covered by the report, G20 members and other key EU trading partners adopted a total of 170 new trade-unfriendly measures. The countries that have adopted the most such measures were Russia, China, India and Indonesia. At the same time, only 12 pre-existing trade barriers have been removed. This means that hundreds of protectionist measures adopted since the beginning of the economic downturn continue to hamper world trade, despite the G20 commitment.

The number of measures applied at the border and quickly obstructing trade –already high last year – continued to rise, with Russia applying the highest number of individual measures affecting imports. The number of new exports restrictions has also risen, a trend that is particularly worrying. All countries depend on each other’s natural resources and such practices can have detrimental consequences for global commodity markets and value chains.

Countries also resorted more frequently to discriminatory internal taxation, technical regulations or localisation requirements to shield their markets from foreign competition. China introduced the highest number of such measures.

Investors and service providers also continue to be affected by limitations in access to foreign markets. Finally, the tendency to restrict participation of foreign companies in public tenders remains strong, in particular in the United States.

CRS — Coordinated Party Expenditures in Federal Elections: An Overview (December 8, 2014)

December 17, 2014 Comments off

Coordinated Party Expenditures in Federal Elections: An Overview (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

A provision of federal campaign finance law, codified at 52 U.S.C. §30116(d) (formerly 2 U.S.C. §441a(d)), allows political party committees to make expenditures on behalf of their general election candidates for federal office and specifies limits on such spending. These “coordinated party expenditures” are important not only because they provide financial support to campaigns, but also because parties and campaigns may explicitly discuss how the money is spent. Although they have long been the major source of direct party financial support for campaigns, coordinated expenditures have recently been overshadowed by independent expenditures.

CRS — Legislation to Facilitate Cybersecurity Information Sharing: Economic Analysis (December 11, 2014)

December 17, 2014 Comments off

Legislation to Facilitate Cybersecurity Information Sharing: Economic Analysis (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Data breaches, such as those at Target, Home Depot, Neiman Marcus, and JPMorgan Chase, affecting financial records of tens of millions of households seem to occur regularly. Companies typically respond by trying to increase their cybersecurity by hiring consultants and purchasing new hardware and software. Policy analysts have suggested that sharing information about these breaches could be an effective and inexpensive part of improving cybersecurity. Firms share information directly on an ad hoc basis and through private-sector, nonprofit organizations such as Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs) that can analyze and disseminate information.

Firms sometimes do not share information because of perceived legal risks, such as violating privacy or antitrust laws, and economic incentives, such as giving useful information to their competitors. A firm that has been attacked might prefer to keep such information private out of a worry that its sales or stock price will fall. Further, there are no existing mechanisms to reward firms for sharing information. Their competitors can take advantage of the information, but not contribute in turn. This lack of reciprocity, called “free riding” by economists, may discourage firms from sharing. In addition, the information shared may not be applicable to those receiving it, or it might be difficult to apply.

Because firms are reluctant to share information, other firms suffer from vulnerabilities that could be corrected. Further, by not sharing information about effective cybersecurity products and techniques, the size and quality of the market for cybersecurity products suffer.

CRS — Ocean Dumping Act: A Summary of the Law (October 30, 2014)

December 17, 2014 Comments off

Ocean Dumping Act: A Summary of the Law (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act has two basic aims: to regulate intentional ocean disposal of materials, and to authorize related research. Permit and enforcement provisions of the law are often referred to as the Ocean Dumping Act. The basic provisions of the act have remained virtually unchanged since 1972, when it was enacted to establish a comprehensive waste management system to regulate disposal or dumping of all materials into marine waters that are within U.S. jurisdiction, although a number of new authorities have been added. This report presents a summary of the law.

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