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The latest news headlines on issues and developments affecting the internal audit profession.

May 14, 2021

President Biden Signs Executive Order to Improve Cybersecurity

U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order to improve the cybersecurity of the U.S. on Wednesday, just days after a ransomware attack led the Colonial Pipeline to shut down operations temporarily, the Daily Dot reports. The attack resulted in fuel shortages on the East Coast. The executive order requires multifactor authentication and encryption for federal government business and establishes baseline security standards for software sold to the government. It also removes barriers and implements requirements intended to enhance information-sharing between the private sector and the federal government. The order could have a significant impact on the work of internal auditors who provide cybersecurity assurance and advisory work.

Fully Vaccinated Americans May Forgo Masks in Most Places, CDC Says

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday issued a long-awaited advisory that fully vaccinated Americans may now go without masks in most places, The New York Times reports. The advice comes with caveats; people using public transportation — including buses, planes, and trains, or when in transportation hubs such as airports — must still wear masks. Likewise, masks are still recommended in doctor's offices, hospitals, long-term care facilities, prisons, or homeless shelters. The CDC has not yet published guidance on how the advice applies to schools and businesses but will soon, according to the article. At a White House press conference Thursday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, "If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic."

Banks Will Share Customer Data In Plan to Expand Credit Access

JPMorgan Chase, U.S. Bancorp, Wells Fargo, and other banks plan to share data on customers' deposit accounts to extend credit to people who have traditionally been unable to get it, CNBC reports, citing The Wall Street Journal (paywall). The plan is aimed at customers who do not have credit scores but are financially responsible. It will consider applicants' account balances over time and their overdraft histories. The move is part of Project REACh, which was started last summer by the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to identify and reduce barriers to full, fair participation in the nation's banking system.

The IIA Adds Director of Professional Practices for the Public Sector

Pamela Stroebel Powers has joined The IIA as director of professional practices for the public sector. In her new role, Stroebel Powers will collaborate with public sector IIA members around the globe to provide guidance and advocacy for their unique position in the internal audit profession. "I am incredibly excited to have Pam on the IIA team," said Harold Silverman, managing director of professional practices at The Institute, who recently introduced Stroebel Powers on his Continuing the Conversation video series. "She has made a career of serving the public sector and internal auditors." During her more than 24-year career, Stroebel Powers was senior auditor at the Oregon Department of Transportation, chief audit executive (CAE) at the Oregon Lottery and Department of Administrative Services, and founder of Powers CPA LLC, which provided internal audit, consulting, and training services to government and nonprofit organizations. Most recently, she was the first CAE for the Oregon Military Department. She also remains a contributing faculty member at Willamette University's Atkinson Graduate School of Management, a position she has held since 2010.

May 12, 2021

Advice for Building Strong Virtual Teams

After a year of social distancing, more employees and companies are embracing the idea of a work-from-home model. Virtual teams offer more flexibility in hiring, are a low-cost benefit to employees, and reduce real estate costs. Well-managed virtual teams can outperform teams that share office space, but they can be tricky to manage well, writes Cristina Gibson, a professor of management at Pepperdine University in an article for the American Society of Association Executives. Based on Gibson's research, the difference between an effective virtual team and a dysfunctional one comes down to three strategies: the ability of managers to develop team identity, acknowledge and bridge cultural differences, and address any shortfalls in team harmony. For instance, managers should ensure teams have a common space to share ideas and work, openly discuss cultural preferences and norms, and encourage employees to share different perspectives. According to Gibson, successful virtual teams require managers to "excel in the fundamentals of good management and to address challenges head on."

Coronavirus Cases Escalate in Asia-Pacific, Prompting New Restrictions

Coronavirus cases are surging in Asia and the Pacific with more than 5.9 million new confirmed infections in the past two weeks, more than in all other regions combined, the Associated Press reports. According to figures from the International Federation of the Red Cross, seven out of the 10 countries that are doubling their infection numbers the fastest are in the region. Among those countries is India, where the number of confirmed infections doubled to more than 23 million in less than two months. The rapid rise in cases has prompted countries in the region, including Malaysia, to impose new restrictions on travel and movement, according to Hawaii Public Radio.

UK Bill Proposes Fines, Criminal Offense for Harmful Internet Content

The British government introduced the Online Safety Bill draft legislation Wednesday, AFP reports. If enacted into law, social media sites, websites, and apps would be punished for failing to remove and limit the spread of illegal and harmful content, including posts showing the sexual abuse of children or suicide as well as terrorist material. The legislation would create a new criminal offense for senior executives of companies that fail to make necessary efforts to improve safety. Additionally, Britain's online regulator Ofcom could fine technology companies up to £18 million ($25 million) or 10% of their annual global turnover, whichever is higher, if they fail to remove harmful content.

Violence Escalates Across Israel and the Gaza Strip

In some of the worst violence in Israel in many years, citizens in Israel and the Gaza Strip were hit by deadly rocket attacks and airstrikes for the second consecutive night, The Washington Post reports. While the attacks continued, many Palestinian Israeli citizens poured into streets, burning cars and overrunning police forces. According to the combined data of Palestinian health officials and Israeli emergency response officials, 48 Gazans have died so far, as well as six Israelis. According to Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza strip, the attacks were in response to Israeli airstrikes that had brought down a 13-story building, as well as other attacks on high-rise buildings. Israel alleges the building housed Hamas military intelligence offices and a rocket research and development unit. As this conflict continues to develop, the potential for greater unrest in the region grows.

May 10, 2021

Cyberattack on Large U.S. Pipeline Leads to Emergency Declaration

A ransomware cyberattack Friday night forced one of the U.S.' largest fuel pipelines and a primary source of fuel for the East Coast to shut down temporarily Friday, Newsweek reports. In a statement, Colonial Pipeline said it "proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which has temporarily halted all pipeline operations." The Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed on Saturday afternoon that it's actively investigating the incident. Several sources report that the attack may have been carried out by a criminal ransomware group called "DarkSide." Amid concerns of shortages or price increases related to gas, oil, and diesel along the East Coast, the Biden administration issued an emergency declaration in Washington, D.C. and 17 states to lift restrictions on fuel transport.

Netherlands Grants $2.4 billion to Energy Companies for Carbon Storage Project

As part of the Netherlands' goal to cut carbon emissions, the Dutch government has granted €2 billion ($2.4 billion) to a consortium of energy companies for what is soon to be one of the world's largest carbon capture and storage (CSS) projects, Reuters reports. The consortium, which includes Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Air Liquide, and Air Products, will use the grants to cover the extra costs of capturing, transporting, and storing the CO2 emitted by factories and refineries in the Rotterdam port area. The greenhouse gas will be stored in empty Dutch gas fields in the North Sea. The CSS project is expected to be operational in 2024 and will contribute to the country's goal of lowering emissions by 55% relative to 1990 levels by 2030. As a center of industry and Europe's main seaport, the Netherlands is among the countries with the highest per capita CO2 emissions in Europe.

Rare Deadly Fungus Found Among COVID-19 Survivors in India

Although India is still in the middle of a deadly COVID-19 surge, another new threat has been discovered among the patients: a rare infection known as mucormycosis, or the "black fungus," India Today reports. The fungus commonly affects the sinuses, brain, lungs, skin, and kidneys, and appears on the skin in a form that resembles a blister or ulcer. Patients with the infection may see a blocked nose, sinus pain, headache, and fever in the early days. If the eye socket becomes infected, the victim also can become blind. Eventually, the infection can spread to the brain, which causes seizures, comprehension difficulties, and even comas. Before the pandemic, most cases were seen only in individuals who have had transplants or were under heavy medication that compromises the immune system. However, COVID-19 combined with India's unique humid conditions has created an environment where the fungus can thrive. In the state of Maharashtra alone, of more than 200 COVID-19 survivors diagnosed with mucormycosis, at least eight have died, according to News 18. Surat, a city in the state of Gujarat, has registered at least 40 cases, with eight victims losing their eyesight, India Today reports.

U.S. EEOC Releases New Employer Guidance On Religious Accommodation

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released new guidance on religious accommodation, EHS Today reports. The new guidance says an employer can reasonably accommodate an employee's religious observance needs through flexible scheduling, voluntary swaps of shifts, or lateral transfers. An employer also can provide accommodation by modifying workplace practices, policies, or procedures. The EEOC guidance notes factors that employers can consider in assessing whether the accommodations would constitute undue hardship, including the costs involved in relation to the size of the employer, as well as the number of individuals who will need accommodation.

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