January 25, 2022

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Information Security: IRS Has Improved Controls but Needs to Resolve Weaknesses

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    In U.S GAO News
    Why GAO Did This Study With the emergence and rapid global spread of COVID-19, smartphone apps have been developed to supplement manual contact tracing, which is a public health measure used to slow the spread of infectious disease. GAO was asked to conduct a technology assessment of exposure notification apps. This report discusses (1) the benefits of exposure notification apps; (2) the current level of deployment in the U.S.; (3) challenges affecting their use; and (4) policy options that may help address these challenges for future use. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed agency documentation, met with officials from several federal agencies, and conducted a review of technical and policy literature. GAO also interviewed representatives from companies involved in the development of exposure notification apps, public health organizations, federally funded research and development centers, and academic researchers. In addition, GAO analyzed information from a selection of states. GAO is identifying policy options in this report. GAO received technical comments on a draft of this report from five federal agencies and five organizations included in the review, which it incorporated as appropriate. What GAO Found Exposure notification applications (apps)—which determine the proximity of users and notify people who have been in close contact with another user who was likely infectious—are expected to enhance the speed and reach of contact tracing and help slow the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. As of June 2021, almost half (26/56) of U.S. states, territories, and the District of Columbia had deployed an app for COVID-19, all using a system developed jointly by Google and Apple (see figure). In the absence of a national app, states independently launched apps, resulting in a staggered rollout over 10 months beginning in August 2020. Map of deployment of exposure notification apps by U.S. states and territories, as of June 2021 Reported app development costs for selected states varied, ranging from no cost (provided by a nonprofit organization) to $700,000. Marketing costs for selected states ranged from $380,000 to $3.2 million. Reported app download levels in the selected states ranged from 200,000 to more than 2 million, as of June 2021. GAO identified several challenges limiting app use and the ability of states and others to determine whether the apps were effective: Accuracy of measurements Technical limitations to measuring distance and exposure can result in inaccurate exposure notifications. Privacy and security concerns The public may lack confidence that its privacy is being protected, in part, due to a lack of independent privacy and security assessments and a lack of federal legal protections. Adoption States have faced challenges attracting public interest in downloading and using an exposure notification app. Verification code delays States faced challenges in promptly providing people who tested positive for COVID-19 with a verification code necessary to notify other close contacts of potential exposure using the app. Evidence of effectiveness Limited data are available to evaluate the effectiveness of the apps. Source: GAO. | GAO-21-104622 GAO developed the following four policy options that could help address challenges related to exposure notification apps. The policy options identify possible actions by policymakers, which may include Congress, other elected officials, federal agencies, state and local governments, and industry. See below for details of the policy options and relevant opportunities and considerations. Policy Options to Help Address Challenges of Exposure Notification Apps for Future Use   Opportunities Considerations Research and Development (report page 41) Policymakers could promote research and development to address technological limitations. Research on technological limitations could help increase accuracy, encouraging users to download and use the apps. Research on technologies and architectures other than those used by U.S. states could lead to improvements. Partnerships with technology companies could spur innovation and help with integrating improvements. The research needed may be costly. Improvements may not be cost-effective, since existing apps may already be sufficiently accurate. Research may result in apps that are not functional for the next pandemic, since the current apps were developed for COVID-19. Privacy and Security Standards and Practices (report page 42) Policymakers could promote uniform privacy and security standards and practices for exposure notification apps. Uniform standards and best practices could help address real and perceived risks to the public’s data, potentially increasing adoption. Standards developed by a broad coalition of stakeholders could increase the likelihood of stakeholder agreement and buy-in. Policymakers would need to balance the need for privacy and security with the costs of implementing standards and practices. Implementation of privacy requirements may need to be flexible, since jurisdictions could use different approaches. Standards and practices could be challenging to oversee and enforce. Best Practices (report page 43) Policymakers could promote best practices for approaches to increasing adoption and to measure the effectiveness of exposure notification apps. Best practices could help authorities better promote app adoption. Best practices could help state public health authorities by providing information on procedures and potential approaches for distributing verification codes in a timely manner. Best practices could help public health authorities establish a more rigorous way to measure the extent of app use and any resulting improvements in notifying exposed people. Best practices could require consensus from many public- and private-sector stakeholders, which can be time- and resource-intensive. Current best practices may have limited relevance to a future pandemic. In some cases, stakeholders may lack sufficient information or the experience to develop best practices. National Strategy (report page 44) Policymakers could collaborate to enhance the pandemic national strategy and promote a coordinated approach to the development and deployment of exposure notification apps. Enhanced national coordination that builds on the underlying infrastructure and lessons learned from COVID-19 could prompt faster deployment of apps in the future. A future national marketing campaign with cohesive and coherent messaging could result in wider adoption. Policymakers could recommend a national app that public health authorities could decide to use based on their individual needs. A national app could add more functions by integrating exposure notification capabilities with test scheduling and vaccine delivery coordination. A coordinated national approach would likely have associated costs and require sustained funding during the pandemic. Coordination of groups with divergent perspectives and interests may pose challenges to defining outcomes, measuring performance, and establishing a leadership approach. It is unclear whether potential users would be more or less likely to trust a national exposure notification app than one developed by a state government. Source: GAO. | GAO-21-104622 For more information, contact Karen L. Howard at (202) 512-6888 or howardk@gao.gov or Vijay A. D’Souza, at (202) 512-6240, dsouzav@gao.gov.
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    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified 10 priority recommendations for the Department of the Interior. Since then, Interior has implemented 5 of those recommendations by, among other things, taking steps to identify and evaluate offshore oil and gas drilling risks and improving regional coordination among federal partners to address energy and mineral issues. In June 2021, GAO identified 8 additional priority recommendations for Interior, bringing the total number to 13. These recommendations involve the following areas: improving oversight of offshore oil and gas activities; taking action to ensure safety, health, and services at Bureau of Indian Education schools; improving Bureau of Indian Affairs' management of energy development on Indian lands; reducing factors that hinder tribal administration of federal programs; and addressing Micronesia and the Marshall Islands' transition to trust fund income. Interior's continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015, GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Mark Gaffigan at (202) 512-3841 or gaffiganm@gao.gov.
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  • Capitol Police: Applying Effective Practices to Address Recommendations Will Improve Oversight and Management
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The U.S. Capitol Police (Capitol Police) may benefit from applying practices to help implement recommendations from auditing entities, such as those from GAO and the Capitol Police Office of the Inspector General (OIG). These effective practices include the following: Provide management oversight over the prompt remediation of deficiencies and delegate authority. Federal internal control standards state that management should oversee the prompt remediation of deficiencies. This should be done by communicating the corrective actions to the appropriate personnel and delegating authority for completing these actions. Communicate regularly with auditing entities on the status of recommendations. Engagement between Capitol Police and auditing agency leaders could provide important leadership attention to help ensure actions are taken to implement recommendations. Work with Congress to address recommendations. Congress plays a key role in providing oversight and maintaining focus on recommendations from audit entities. For example, federal agencies, including the Capitol Police, are required to report on the implementation status of public recommendations. Further, agencies can also assess the need for legislation to address recommendations and report their findings to Congress. Follow key organizational transformation practices . As the Capitol Police takes steps to implement recommendations from auditing entities, the agency may benefit from following key organizational transformation practices, such as (1) setting implementation goals and a timeline, (2) dedicating an implementation team to manage the transformation process, and (3) involving employees to obtain their ideas and gain their ownership for the transformation. Coordination between the Capitol Police and its Board is critical to addressing its recommendations. The Capitol Police Board (the Board) is charged with oversight of the Capitol Police. Given the oversight role of the Board, the Capitol Police may need approval from the Board in order to take actions to address recommendations from auditing entities. GAO's 2017 work on the Board assessed whether the Board, in fulfilling its role in overseeing the Capitol Police, had developed and implemented policies that incorporate leading practices to facilitate accountability, transparency, and effective external communication. In that effort, GAO examined the Board's main governing document, its Manual of Procedures, and determined that it fully incorporated one leading practice and partially incorporated five others. Specifically, the Board's manual did develop processes for the internal functions of the Board but did not address any Board responsibilities in ensuring that any audit findings and recommendations to the Capitol Police were promptly resolved. By incorporating leading practices into its manual, the Board can ensure it is facilitating accountability, transparency, and effective external communication as it fulfills its oversight role of the Capitol Police. Why GAO Did This Study The attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, highlighted the critical need to identify and address deficiencies in the management and security functions of the Capitol Police. Various auditing entities have work ongoing related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol, including GAO and the Capitol Police OIG. It is important that the Capitol Police is well positioned to respond to existing and future recommendations from auditing entities. To do so, Capitol Police will also need to work closely with the Capitol Police Board, which has varied and wide-ranging oversight roles and responsibilities per statute. This statement discusses (1) effective practices for addressing recommendations from auditing agencies and (2) GAO's open recommendation to the Capitol Police Board from February 2017. To identify effective practices for addressing recommendations, GAO reviewed reports and testimonies issued from July 2003 through March 2021 that discussed the implementation of GAO recommendations, federal internal control standards, and organizational transformation. GAO also reviewed its February 2017 report on the Capitol Police Board, and used information gathered from its recommendation follow up efforts with the Capitol Police Board in 2020 and 2021.
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  • Intelligence Community: Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen Workforce Diversity Planning and Oversight
    In U.S GAO News
    The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) reported that the representation of some demographic groups within the Intelligence Community (IC) workforce increased from fiscal years 2011 through 2019—the latest available data. Over this period, the proportion of women, racial or ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities changed by .7, 3.3, and 6.2 percentage points, respectively. However, the representation of women, racial or ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities remained below comparable benchmarks and declined among higher ranks in fiscal year 2019. IC elements report taking steps to address leading practices for managing workforce diversity, but report gaps in diversity planning. GAO found that most IC elements report taking steps to address seven of nine leading practices for diversity management. For the remaining two leading practices—strategic planning and measurement—most elements report taking one or no steps. Number of Intelligence Community (IC) Elements and the Steps They Report Taking to Implement Leading Practices for Workforce Diversity Management, as of August 2020 GAO leading practices Number of IC elements that report taking steps Leadership commitment 17 of 17 IC elements report taking multiple steps Recruitment 14 of 17 IC elements report taking multiple steps, and three IC elements report taking one step Employee involvement 14 of 17 IC elements report taking multiple steps, two IC elements report taking one step, and one IC element reports taking no step Diversity training 14 of 17 IC elements report taking multiple steps, and three IC elements report taking one step Performance 12 of 17 IC elements linked diversity management with enhanced performance while five IC elements did not Succession planning 9 of 17 IC elements report taking multiple steps, and eight IC elements report taking one step Accountability 9 of 17 IC elements report taking multiple steps, seven IC elements report taking one step, and one IC element reports taking no steps Strategic planning 3 of 17 IC elements have current and complete strategic plans Measurement 6 of 17 IC elements have diversity-related performance measures Source: GAO analysis of IC element documents and GAO leading practices for diversity management. | GAO-21-83 Further, while all IC elements report having a process to identify barriers to diversity, nine IC elements report not completing required barrier assessments. Without fully implementing leading practices for managing workforce diversity and conducting routine barrier assessments, the IC may miss opportunities to develop effective and efficient diversity policies and programs. ODNI's Office of Intelligence Community Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity (IC EEOD) is meeting seven of eight leading practices for enhancing and sustaining the coordination of diversity initiatives across the 17 IC elements. However, IC EEOD partially met the practice to reinforce agency accountability. Specifically, IC EEOD has not established IC-wide implementation objectives and timeframes to demonstrate progress. As a result, IC EEOD risks not holding IC elements accountable for enhancing workforce diversity. The 2019 National Intelligence Strategy states that the IC will recruit, develop, and retain a diverse, inclusive, and expert workforce to enable mission success. ODNI reports that the IC is taking steps to increase the representation of diverse groups, such as issuing new strategies to enhance workforce planning. However, barriers to establishing a diverse workforce exist across the IC, according to an ODNI 2017 analysis. GAO was asked to review the IC's progress in enhancing workforce diversity. This report (1) summarizes ODNI annual demographic reports on the proportion of women, racial or ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities; and assesses the extent to which (2) IC elements report taking steps to address leading practices for managing workforce diversity and to identify potential barriers to maintaining a diverse workforce; and (3) ODNI is addressing leading practices for coordinating IC workforce diversity initiatives. GAO reviewed IC-wide and IC element specific policies and guidance; interviewed ODNI, and other IC officials; and administered a questionnaire to all 17 IC elements to obtain information on diversity strategies and challenges. GAO is making seven recommendations, including that the Director of National Intelligence issue or update guidance to ensure IC elements maintain diversity strategic plans, assess and take steps to eliminate barriers to diversity, and establish implementation objectives and timeframes to hold IC elements accountable. ODNI agreed with the recommendations. For more information, contact Brian M. Mazanec at (202) 512-5130 or mazanecb@gao.gov.
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