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COVID-
19 consulting resources

05.13.20

The BerryDunn Recovery Advisory Team has compiled this guide to COVID-19 consulting resources for state and local government agencies and higher education institutions.

We have provided a list of our consulting services related to data analysis, CARES Act funding and procurement, and legislation and policy implementation. Many of these services can be procured via the NASPO ValuePoint Procurement Acquisition Support Services contract.

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If you have any questions, please contact us at info@berrydunn.com

Related Professionals

Principals

  • Kevin Price
    Principal
    Community Development, Government Utilities
    T 207.541.2379
  • Doug Rowe
    Principal
    Justice and Public Safety
    T 207.541.2330

BerryDunn experts and consultants

Is your Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) agency struggling with Maintenance and Enhancement (M&E) vendor management? Here are some approaches to help improve your situation: 

  • Product Management Office (PdMO): Product management can help you manage your WIC system by coordinating and planning releases with the M&E vendor, prioritizing enhancements, reviewing workflows, and providing overall vendor management.
  • Project Management Office (PMO): Project management can help with budgeting, resource management, risk management, and organization. 
  • A blend of product and project management is a great partnership that can relieve some of the responsibilities of WIC agency staff and allows a third party to provide support in all areas of product and project management.

Whether you are an independent WIC State Agency (SA) or a multi-state consortium (MSC), having a PMO and/or PdMO can help alleviate some of the challenges facing WIC today. While an MSC may present significant cost savings, managing an M&E contract for multiple states can be overwhelming. Independent state agencies (SAs) may not have multiple states to coordinate with, but having the staff resources for vendor facilitation and implementing federal changes can be challenging. A PMO/PdMO can aid in improving business and technology outcomes for SAs and MSCs by bringing a level of coordination and consistency that otherwise might not happen. 

As federal changes grow in complexity, evidenced by the many changes to WIC stemming from the American Rescue Plan Act, coupled with workforce challenges in government, the importance of a PMO/PdMO has never been greater. Here are six ways a PMO/PdMO can help you:

  1. Facilitate the vendor relationship
    A PMO/PdMO not only holds the vendor accountable but also takes some of the workload off the SA by facilitating meetings, providing meeting notes, and tracking action items and decisions.
  2. Manage centrally located data
    A PMO/PdMO keeps all documents and data in a centralized location, fostering a collaborative environment and ease of access to needed information. A centralized location of data allows SAs to be on the same page for consistency, quality control, and to support the state’s need for clean, reliable information that is current and accurate.
  3. Track and mitigate risks 
    Effective risk management requires a substantial commitment of time and resources. The PMO/PdMO identifies, tracks, and assesses the severity of risks and suggests approaches to manage those risks. Some PMO/PdMOs assess all risks based on a severity index to help clients determine which risks need immediate action and which need monitoring.
  4.  Assist in the creation of Implementation Advanced Planning Document Updates (IAPDUs) 
    Creating and implementing an IAPDU can be time-consuming, confusing, and requires attention to detail. A PMO/PdMO alleviates time and pressure on SAs by helping to ensure that an IAPDU or funding request clearly outlines a plan of action to accomplish the activities necessary to reach an organization’s goal. PMO/PdMOs can draft IAPDUs to determine the need, feasibility, and projected costs and benefits for service. 
  5. Provide an unbiased, third-party opinion 
    A PMO/PdMO will offer an unbiased, third-party opinion to help avoid misunderstanding and frustration, decision stalemates, inadequate solutions, and unpleasant relationships between WIC agencies and M&E vendors. 
  6. Provide the right combination of business and technical expertise
    Staffing challenges (exacerbated by COVID-19), difficulties finding expertise managing software change management for WIC, and a retiring workforce knowledgeable in WIC system implementation have in some cases left SAs without critical resources. Having the right combination of skills from a third party can resolve some of these challenges.

Independent SAs or MSCs would benefit from having a PMO/PdMO to help meet the challenges WIC agencies face today, whether it is an unplanned funding change or updates to the risk codes. With the help of a PMO/PdMO developing standard practices and methodologies, SAs and MSCs can deliver and implement high-quality services more consistently and efficiently. The role of the PMO/PdMO is far-reaching and positively impacts WIC by providing backbone support for WIC’s overarching goal, to “safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children who are at nutrition risk.”

If you have questions about PMOs or PdMOs and the impact they can have on your agency, please contact us. We're here to help.

Article
Product Management Office: Benefits for WIC state agencies

Read this if your State Medicaid Agency is planning Medicaid Enterprise System enhancements.

Are you a system integrator (SI) or a State Medicaid Agency (SMA) implementing or enhancing a Medicaid system or specific module? Have you considered how decisions made during design and implementation could impact the federal Payment Error Rate Measurement (PERM) reviews for SMAs?

The goal of PERM is to measure and report an unbiased estimate of the true improper payment rate for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Every state is reviewed once every three years using a sample that includes both fee for service (FFS) and managed care (MC) payments. A state assigned error rate is not the only consequence resulting from the PERM review; there are also financial implications.

Risk reduction from PERM review

Maintaining a focus on PERM review factors when making decisions during design and implementation can protect states by reducing the risk of:

  • Submitting change requests (CR) during implementation, which can result in additional cost and time
  • Implementing changes to existing Medicaid systems during maintenance and operations
  • Findings reported during certification efforts
  • Refunding federal dollars due to improperly paid claims
  • A reduction in federal match on all claims paid

It is also important to understand the benefits of a dedicated PERM team within the state organization that includes members from the system vendor and outside PERM experts. These benefits include providing states an additional level of security to help ensure a positive outcome to the federal PERM review, helping to protect federal funding.

Having a dedicated team will help ensure all decisions made during system updates and/or implementations are made while keeping focus on PERM requirements and the further impacts of PERM reviews, saving time and remaining compliant.

Plan ahead for best results

When planning for a new module or Medicaid system request for proposal (RFPs), consider PERM-related requirements to help ensure all PERM needs are met to prevent errors and repayment of federal funds. Including PERM requirements can also help your agency ensure federal compliance and successful PERM audits. Doing so will likely reduce the amount of time system integrators spend re-working earlier development decisions and help ensure claim payments are processed, and eligibility determinations are made in accordance with federal and state regulations.

If you have questions about PERM or your specific situation, please contact our Medicaid Consulting team. We’re here to help.

Article
PERM success for Medicaid agencies through system implementations

Read this if you are a behavioral health agency leader looking for solutions to manage mental health, substance misuse, and overdose crises.

As state health departments across the country continue to grapple with rising COVID-19 cases, stalling vaccination rates, and public heath workforce burnout, other crises in behavioral health may be looming. Diverted resources, disruption in treatment, and the mental stress of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated mental health disorders, substance use, and drug overdoses.

State agencies need behavioral health solutions perhaps now more than ever. BerryDunn works with state agencies to mitigate the challenges of managing behavioral health and implement innovative strategies and solutions to better serve beneficiaries. Read on to understand how conducting a needs assessment, redesigning processes, and/or establishing a strategic plan can amplify the impact of your programs. 

Behavioral health in crisis

The prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorders has steadily increased over the past decade, and the pandemic has exacerbated these trends. A number of recently released studies show increases in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. One CDC study indicates that in June 2020 over 40% of adults reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, which includes about 13% who have started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.1 

The toll on behavioral health outcomes is compounded by the pandemic’s disruption to behavioral health services. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, 65% of behavioral health organizations have had to cancel, reschedule, or turn away patients, even as organizations see a dramatic increase in the demand for services.2,3 Moreover, treatment facilities and harm reduction programs across the country have scaled back services or closed entirely due to social distancing requirements, insufficient personal protective equipment, budget shortfalls, and other challenges.4 These disruptions in access to care and service delivery are having a severe impact.

Several studies indicate that patients report new barriers to care or changes in treatment and support services after the onset of the pandemic.5, 6 Barriers to care are particularly disruptive for people with substance use disorders. Social isolation and mental illness, coupled with limited treatment options and harm reduction services, creates a higher risk of suicide ideation, substance misuse, and overdose deaths.

For example, the opioid epidemic was still surging when the pandemic began, and rates of overdose have since spiked or elevated in every state across the country.7 After a decline of overdose deaths in 2018 for the first time in two decades, the CDC reported 81,230 overdose deaths from June 2019 to May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.8 

These trends do not appear to be improving. On October 3, the CDC reported that from March 2020 to March 2021, overdose deaths have increased 29.6% compared to the previous year, and that number will only continue to climb as more data comes in.9  

As the country continues to experience an increase in mental illness, suicide, and substance use disorders, states are in need of capacity and support to identify and/or implement strategies to mitigate these challenges. 

Solutions for state agencies

Behavioral health has been recognized as a priority issue and service area that will require significant resources and innovation. In May, the US Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra reestablished the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council to facilitate collaborative, innovative, transparent, equitable, and action-oriented approaches to address the HHS behavioral health agenda. The 2022 budget allocates $1.6 billion to the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant, which is more than double the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 funding and $3.9 billion more than in FY 2020, to address the opioid epidemic in addition to other substance use disorders.10 

As COVID-19 continues to exacerbate behavioral health issues, states need innovative solutions to take on these challenges and leverage additional federal funding. COVID-19 is still consuming the time of many state leaders and staff, so states have a limited capacity to plan, implement, and manage the new initiatives to adequately address these issues. Here are three ways health departments can capitalize on the additional funding.

Conduct a needs assessment to identify opportunities to improve use of data and program outcomes

Despite meeting baseline reporting requirements, state agencies often lack sufficient quality data to assess program outcomes, identify underserved populations, and obtain a holistic view of the comprehensive system of care for behavioral health services. Although state agencies may be able to recognize challenges in the delivery or administration of behavioral health services, it can be difficult to identify solutions that result in sustained improvements.

By performing a structured needs assessment, health departments can evaluate their processes, systems, and resources to better understand how they are using data, and how to optimize programs to tailor behavioral health services and promote better health outcomes and a more equitable distribution of care. This analysis provides the insight for agencies to understand not only the strengths and challenges of the current environment, but also the desires and opportunities for a future solution that takes into account stakeholder needs, best practice, and emerging technologies. 

Some of the benefits we have seen our clients enjoy as a result of performing a needs assessment include: 

  • Discovering and validating strengths and challenges of current state operations through independent evaluation
  • Establishing a clear roadmap for future business and technological improvements
  • Determining costs and benefits of new, alternative, or enhanced systems and/or processes
  • Identifying the specific business and technical requirements to achieve and improve performance outcomes 

Timely, accurate, and comprehensive data is critical to improving behavioral health outcomes, and the information gathered during a needs assessment can inform further activities that support programmatic improvements. Further activities might include conducting a fit-gap analysis, performing business process redesign, establishing a prioritization matrix, and more. By identifying the greatest needs and implementing plans to address them, state agencies can better handle the impact on behavioral health services resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and serve individuals with mental health or substance use disorders more efficiently and effectively.

Redesign processes to improve how individuals access treatment and services

Despite the availability of behavioral health services, inefficient business and technical processes can delay and frustrate individuals seeking care and in some cases, make them stop seeking care altogether. With limited resources and increasing demands, behavioral health agencies should analyze and redesign work flows to maximize efficiency, security, and efficacy. Here are a few examples of process improvements states can achieve through process redesign:

  • Streamlined data processes to reduce duplicative data entry 
  • Automated and aligned manual data collection processes 
  • Integrated siloed health information systems
  • Focused activities to maximize staff strengths
  • Increased process transparency to improve communication and collaboration 

By placing the consumer experience at the core of all services, state health departments can redesign business and technical processes to optimize the continuum of care. A comprehensive approach takes into account all aspects that contribute to the delivery of behavioral health services, including both administrative and financial processes. This helps ensure interconnected activities continue to be performed efficiently and effectively. Such improvements help consumers with co-occurring disorders (mental illness and substance use disorder) and/or developmental disorders find “no wrong door” when seeking care. 

Establish a strategic plan of action to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

With the influx of available dollars resulting from the American Recovery Plan Act and other state and federal investments, health departments have a unique opportunity to fund specific initiatives to enhance the delivery and administration of behavioral health services. Understanding how to allocate the millions of newly awarded dollars in an impactful and sustainable way can be challenging. Furthermore, the additional reporting and compliance requirements linked to the funding can be difficult to navigate in addition to current monitoring obligations. 

The best way to begin using the available funding is to develop and implement strategic plans that optimize funds for behavioral health programs and services. You can establish priorities and identify sustainable solutions that build capacity, streamline operations, and promote the equitable distribution of care across populations. A few of the activities state health departments have undertaken resulting from the strategic planning initiatives include: 

  • Modernizing IT systems, including data management solutions and Electronic Health Records systems to support inpatient, outpatient, and community mental health and substance use programs 
  • Promoting organizational change management 
  • Establishing grant programs for community-driven solutions to promote health equity for the underserved population
  • Organizing, managing, and/or supporting stakeholder engagement efforts to effectively collaborate with internal and external stakeholders for a strong and comprehensive approach

The prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorder were areas of concern prior to COVID-19, and the pandemic has only made these issues worse, while adding more administrative challenges. State health departments have had to redirect their existing staff to work to address COVID-19, leaving a limited capacity to manage existing state-level programs and little to no capacity to plan and implement new initiatives. 

The federal administration and HHS are working to provide financial support to states to work to address these exacerbated health concerns; however, with the limited state capacity, states need additional support to plan, implement, and/or manage new initiatives. BerryDunn has a wide breadth of knowledge and experience in conducting needs assessments, redesigning processes, and establishing strategic plans that are aimed at amplifying the impact of state programs. Contact our behavioral health consulting team to learn more about how we can help. 

Sources:
Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic, CDC.gov
COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Harm Reduction Services: An Environmental Scan, thenationalcouncil.org
National Council for Behavioral Health Polling Presentation, thenationalcouncil.org
The Impact of COVID-19 on Syringe Services Programs in the United States, nih.gov
COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Harm Reduction Services: An Environmental Scan, thenationalcouncil.org
COVID-19-Related Treatment Service Disruptions Among People with Single- and Polysubstance Use Concerns, Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment
Issue Brief: Nation’s Drug-Related Overdose and Death Epidemic Continues to Worsen, American Medical Association
Increase in Fatal Drug Overdoses Across the United States Driven by Synthetic Opioids Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic, CDC.gov
Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts, CDC.gov
10 Fiscal Year 2022 Budget in Brief: Strengthening Health and Opportunity for All Americans, HHS.gov

Article
COVID's impact on behavioral health: Solutions for state agencies

Read this if you used COVID-19 relief funds to pay essential workers.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) and American Rescue Plan (ARPA) Acts allowed states and local governments to use COVID-19 relief funds to provide premium pay to essential workers. Many states took advantage of this opportunity, giving stipends or hourly rate increases to government and other frontline employees who worked during the pandemic, such as healthcare workers, teachers, correctional officers, and police officers.

States’ initial focus was to get the money to the essential workers as quickly as possible, but these decisions may cause them to be out of compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets standards for minimum wage, overtime pay, and recordkeeping. As a result, states should review how the funds were disbursed and if payroll adjustments are necessary. The amount, form, and recipients of the pay varied widely from state to state, making determining whether states are compliant with FLSA and calculating any discrepancies an immensely complex task. 

For example, states that disbursed one-time payments to essential workers will likely be able to treat those payments like standard one-time bonuses, while recurring stipends or hourly rate increases should be included in employee’s regular rate when calculating overtime pay. Because this is an unprecedented situation for both states and the federal government, clear guidance is not yet available from the Department of Labor. 

Fortunately, BerryDunn is already working with clients to review their use of the COVID-19 relief funds to help ensure essential workers were paid fairly. Our team is qualified to guide you through your unique situation and help you remain in compliance with FLSA guidelines.

If you have questions about your particular circumstances, please call our Compliance and Risk Management consulting team. We are here to help and happy to discuss options to pay for these services using federal funds.

Article
Was your COVID-19 essential worker hazard pay FLSA-compliant?

Read this if you are a community bank.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) recently issued its third quarter 2021 Quarterly Banking Profile. The report provides financial information based on Call Reports filed by 4,914 FDIC-insured commercial banks and savings institutions. The report also contains a section specific to community bank performance. In third quarter 2021, this section included the financial information of 4,450 FDIC-insured community banks. Community banks are identified based on criteria defined in the FDIC’s 2020 Community Banking Study. Here are BerryDunn’s key takeaways from the community bank section of the report:

  • There was a $1.4 billion increase in quarterly net income from a year prior despite continued net interest margin (NIM) compression. This increase was mainly due to higher net interest income and lower provision expenses. Net interest income had increased $2.2 billion due to lower interest expense and higher commercial and industrial (C&I) loan interest income, mainly due to fees earned through the payoff and forgiveness of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Provision expense decreased $1.4 billion from third quarter 2020. However, it remained positive at $270.4 million, which was an increase of $219.2 million from second quarter 2021. For noncommunity banks, provision expense was negative $5.2 billion for third quarter 2021

    *See Exhibit B at the end of this article for more information on the third-quarter year-over-year change in income.
     
  • Quarterly NIM increased 3 basis points from third quarter 2020 to 3.31%. The average yield on earning assets fell 20 basis points to 3.60% while the average funding cost fell 23 basis points to 0.29%. This was the first annual expansion of NIM since first quarter 2019. The annual decline in both yield and cost of funds were the smallest reported since first quarter 2020.
  • Net gains on loan sales revenue declined $1.2 billion (41.5%) from third quarter 2020. However, other noninterest income increased $343.3 million or 15.2% while revenue from service charges on deposit accounts increased $100.3 million or 14.5%. In total, noninterest income decreased $616.3 million from third quarter 2020.
  • Noninterest expense increased 5.7% from third quarter 2020. This increase was mainly attributable to salary and benefit expenses, which saw an increase of $402.2 million (4.3%). That being said, average assets per employee increased 10.4% from third quarter 2020. Noninterest expense as a percentage of average assets declined 12 basis points from third quarter 2020 to 2.45%, despite 74.1% of community banks reporting higher noninterest expense.
  • Noncurrent loan balances (loans 90 days or more past due or in nonaccrual status) declined by $847 million, or 7.1%, from second quarter 2021. The noncurrent rate dropped 4 basis points to 0.65% from second quarter 2021.
  • The coverage ratio (allowance for loan and lease losses as a percentage of loans that are 90 days or more past due or in nonaccrual status) increased 44.1 percentage points year-over-year to 203.5%. This ratio is well above the financial crisis average of 147.9% and is a record high. The coverage ratio for community banks is 26.2 percentage points above the coverage ratio for noncommunity banks.
  • Net charge-offs declined 4 basis points from third quarter 2020 to 0.06%.
  • Loans and leases declined from second quarter 2021 by 0.2%. This decrease was mainly seen in the C&I loan category, which was driven by a $45.6 billion decrease in PPP loan balances due to their payoff and forgiveness. Total loans and leases declined by $19.2 billion (1.1%) from third quarter 2020. The largest decline was shown in C&I loans ($87.3 billion or 24.9%). Growth in other loan categories, such as nonfarm nonresidential commercial real estate, construction & development, and multifamily loans of $69.9 million offset a portion of this decline. 

    *See Exhibit C at the end of this article for more information on the change in loan balances.
     
  • Nearly seven out of ten community banks reported an increase in deposit balances during the third quarter. Growth in deposits above the insurance limit increased by $57.8 billion, or 5.5%, while growth in deposits below the insurance limit showed an increase of $1.7 billion, or 0.1%, from second quarter 2021. In total, deposit growth was 2.6% during third quarter 2021.
  • The average community bank leverage ratio (CBLR) for the 1,737 banks that elected to use the CBLR framework was 11.3%. The average leverage capital ratio was 10.25%.
  • The number of community banks declined by 40 to 4,450 from second quarter 2021. This change includes one new community bank, 10 banks transitioning from community to noncommunity bank, five banks transitioning from noncommunity to community bank, 35 community bank mergers or consolidations, and one community bank having ceased operations.

Third quarter 2021 was another strong quarter for community banks, as evidenced by the increase in year-over-year quarterly net income of 19.6% ($1.4 billion). However, NIMs remain low despite seeing growth in the most recent quarter (for the first time since first quarter 2019), as shown in Exhibit A. The consensus remains that community banks will likely need to find creative ways to increase their NIM, grow their earning asset bases, or continue to increase noninterest income to maintain current net income levels. In regards to the latter, many pressures to noninterest income streams exist. Financial technology (fintech) companies are changing the way we bank by automating processes that have traditionally been manual (for instance, loan approval). Decentralized financing (DeFi) also poses a threat to the banking industry. Building off of fintech’s automation, DeFi looks to cut out the middle-man (banks) altogether by building financial services on a blockchain. Ongoing investment in technology should continue to be a focus, as banks look to compete with nontraditional players in the financial services industry. The larger, noncommunity banks are also putting pressure on community banks and their ability to generate noninterest income, as recently seen by Capital One Bank eliminating all overdraft fees.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the financial services industry brought in $15.5 billion in overdraft fees in 2019. Seen as a move to enhance Capital One Bank’s relationships with its customers, community banks will also need to find innovative ways to enhance relationships with current and potential customers. As fintech companies and DeFi become more mainstream and accepted in the marketplace, the value propositions of community banks will likely need to change.

The importance of the efficiency ratio (noninterest expense as a percentage of total revenue) is also magnified as community banks attempt to manage their noninterest expenses in light of low NIMs. Banks appear to be strongly focusing on noninterest expense management, as seen by the 12 basis point decline from third quarter 2020 in noninterest expense as a percentage of average assets, although inflated balance sheets may have something to do with the decrease in the percentage.

Furthermore, much uncertainty still exists. For instance, although significant charge-offs have not yet materialized, the financial picture for many borrowers remains uncertain. And, payment deferrals have made some credit quality indicators, such as past due status, less reliable. Payment deferrals for many borrowers are coming to a halt. So, the true financial picture of these borrowers may start to come into focus. The ability of community banks to maintain relationships with their borrowers and remain apprised of the results of their borrowers’ operations has never been more important. This monitoring will become increasingly important as we transition into a post-pandemic economy.

For seasonal borrowers, current indications, such as the most recent results from the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book, show that economic activity was modest in August and September 2021. Supply chain pressures, labor shortages, and concerns over COVID-19 variants (delta and now omicron) have slowed economic growth and continue to provide uncertainty as to (1) the trajectory of the economy, (2) whether inflation is transitory, and (3) the need for the Federal Reserve to increase the federal funds target rate. If an increase in the federal funds target rate is used to combat inflation, community banks could see their NIMs in another transitory stage.

Also, as offices start to open, employers will start to reassess their office needs. Many employers have either created or revised remote working policies due to changing employee behavior. If remote working schedules persist, whether it be full-time or hybrid, the demand for office space may decline, causing instability for commercial real estate borrowers. Banks should closely monitor these borrowers, as identifying early signs of credit deterioration could be essential to preserving the relationship.

The financial services industry is full of excitement right now. While the industry faces many challenges, these challenges also bring opportunity for banks to experiment and differentiate themselves. The forces at play right now indicate the industry will likely look much different ten years from now. However, as the pandemic has exhibited, you may be full steam ahead in one direction and then an unforeseen force may totally up-end your plans. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to BerryDunn’s Financial Services team if you have any questions.

Article
FDIC Issues its Third Quarter 2021 Quarterly Banking Profile

Read this if you are a division of motor vehicles, or interested in mDLs.

It can be challenging to learn about the technical specifications that must be met to safely acquire, implement, and use emerging technologies. And why wouldn’t it be? Technical specifications are full of jargon only a technical expert can understand, and seem to appear out of thin air. Well, BerryDunn is here to help. When it comes to mobile driver’s licenses (mDLs), we’ve got the scoop.

Technical standards are developed by a few large international organizations. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a Swiss-based organization responsible for the development of international standards for technical, industrial, and commercial industries in 165 countries. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is an international standards organization that develops and publishes standards for electronic technologies. The ISO and IEC have been collaborating on international technical standards for mDL technology. Recently, the ISO/IEC finalized and published these standards, which can be purchased on ISO’s website for $198 Swiss francs (about $213 US).

These technical standards cover three key components: 

  • Data exchanged during an mDL transaction
  • Security during online and offline mDL transaction scenarios
  • mDL data model to ensure mDL interoperability 

Data exchange/transaction

Data exchange is the process by which an mDL device is used to provide credentials (e.g., verify age or identity) to an mDL reader. Broadly speaking, data exchange consists of three phases: initialization (activating your device at a store to confirm your identity), device engagement (the mDL device creates a connection with the mDL reader), and data retrieval (the mDL reader requests the appropriate data to continue a transaction). The process can occur when the mDL has an internet connection (online retrieval) or when it does not have an internet connection (offline retrieval). Offline data retrieval can be conducted using a combination of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Near-Field Communication (NFC), or Wi-Fi Aware technologies. These are all methods by which an mDL can connect to mDL readers at short ranges, functionally similar to Apple Pay. Online Data retrieval can be conducted using a web-based application programming interface (WebAPI) or OpenID Connect (OIDC). These are methods by which mDLs connect with the mDL issuer, confirm the mDL holder’s identity, and allow the mDL issuer to transfer data to the mDL reader. In short, an mDL transaction might look something like this:

  1. Initialization: An mDL holder attempts to purchase alcohol from a local store. The mDL holder opens their device, enters their mDL application using a PIN or biometric security feature, and uses NFC or a QR code to initiate a connection between the mDL and mDL reader.
  2. Device engagement: The mDL and mDL reader connect using NFC or a QR code.
  3. Data retrieval: The mDL reader either asks the mDL for data to confirm the holder’s age, or asks the mDL issuer to confirm the mDL holder’s age. Either the mDL or mDL issuer sends appropriate data to the mDL reader to confirm the holder’s age. Once validated, the mDL-reading establishment and mDL holder are free to complete the transaction. 

Security for mobile driver’s licenses 

mDL security aims to protect against four primary threats.

  1. mDL forgery/forgery of data elements
  2. mDL cloning/cloning of data elements
  3. mDL communication eavesdropping
  4. Unauthorized mDL access 

mDL security needs to cover online scenarios, in which an mDL-holder’s device is connected to the internet, as well as offline scenarios, when an mDL holder’s device does not have internet connectivity. Potential mDL security options include: 

  • Authentication of mDL data to protect against data cloning
  • Authentication of the legitimacy of the mDL reader to prevent alteration of communications between the mDL and mDL reader 
  • Session encryption to preserve mDL data confidentiality and prevent mDL data alteration or unauthorized data access
  • Issuer data authentication to ensure the mDL data originates at a legitimate issuing authority

During online retrieval scenarios, mDLs can employ transport layer security (TLS) to preserve the confidentiality of mDL data, or use a JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) Web Token (JWT) to authenticate mDL data origin.  

mDL technical specifications: Key terms and definitions

Technical specifications are an important, yet confusing aspect of IT system implementations, particularly for emerging technologies where expertise has not yet been established within the market. The same holds true for mDLs. Understanding mDL technical specifications requires understanding the specific terms used to describe the technical specifications along with general mDL terminology. Here’s a list of mDL-related and technical specification terms and definitions.

Key terms and definitions
 

Terms Definitions
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) A form of Bluetooth that provides a wireless connectivity of similar range to traditional Bluetooth at reduced device power consumption.
IEC International Electrotechnical Commission
ISO International Organization for Standardization
JavaScript Object Notation (JSON)  An open standard file format and data interchange format that uses human-readable text to store and transmit data objects.
JSON Web Token (JWT) An object used to transfer information between two parties over the web.
mDL issuer  The department of motor vehicles or bureau of motor vehicles responsible for administering rights to, and overseeing distribution of, mDL data to mDL holders.
mDL holder The person whose data is contained in, and represented by, the mDL.
mDL reader The hardware technology used to consume mDL data from an mDL holder’s device.
mDL-reading establishment The institution consuming mDL data via an mDL reader (e.g., law enforcement, liquor store, Transportation Safety Administration).  
Near-Field Communication (NFC) Communication protocols that allow electronic devices to communicate over distances of 1.5 inches or less (e.g., Apple Pay).
Offline retrieval The mDL holder’s device is not directly connected to an internet network via Wi-Fi or cellular data, requiring the mDL device to hold some mDL data—behind security features (e.g., PIN, or biometric lock)—and, at a minimum, confirm holder identity, driving privileges, age, and residence.
Online retrieval  The mDL holder’s device is connected to an internet network via Wi-Fi or cellular data. Upon request, the mDL holder can initiate a transfer of mDL data using a QR code or web token to approve the sharing of mDL data between the mDL issuer and mDL reader. 
OpenID Connect (OIDC) OpenID Connect is an authentication protocol that allows for the verification of end user identity.
Transport Layer Security (TLS) A cryptographic protocol that provides communication security over a computer network (e.g., between an mDL reader and mDL issuer).
Web Application Programming Interface (API)   An interface for a web server or web browser.
Wi-Fi Aware A Wi-Fi capability that allows devices to discover potential Wi-Fi connections nearby without connecting to them. Wi-Fi Aware runs in the background, and does not require users to have current Wi-Fi or cellular connections.


If you have any questions regarding mDLs and technical requirements, please contact us. We’re here to help. 

Article
mDL technical specifications: Background, terms, and topics

Read this if you are at a not-for-profit organization.

There is no question the investment landscape is forever changing. Even before COVID-19 placed a vice grip on all aspects of society, many not-for-profit organizations were looking for ways to maximize the value of their current investment holdings. One such way of accomplishing this is through the use of alternative investments, defined for our purposes as investments outside of standard assets such as traditional stocks and bonds. Alternative investments have become increasingly specialized and are often seen in the form of foreign corporations or partnerships (often times domiciled in locales such as the Cayman Islands where tax laws are more favorable to investors) and are much more commonplace than ever before.

While promises of higher rates of return are received warmly by not-for-profit organizations, alternative investments often carry with them the potential for additional compliance costs in the form of tax filing obligations and substantial penalties should those filings be overlooked.

This article will highlight some of those potential foreign filings, as well as highlight potential consequences they carry and what you need to know in order to avoid the pitfalls. 

Potential foreign filings related to investment activities

Not-for profit organizations should be aware of the potential filings/disclosures required in regards to their ownership of investments located outside of the United States. The federal government uses a variety of forms to track transfers of property, ownership, and account balances related to foreign activity/investments. A list of some of the potential foreign filings are detailed below (not an all-inclusive list):

Form 926 – Return by a US Transferor of Property to a Foreign Corporation

This form is generally required when a US investor transfers more than $100,000 in a 12-month period, or any other contribution when the investor owns 10% or more of a foreign corporation. The requirement to file this form can be via a direct investment in the foreign corporation, or indirectly through another entity (such as a partnership interest). The penalty for failure to file is equal to 10 percent of the transfer amount, up to $100,000 per missed filing.

Form 8865 – Return of US Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Partnerships

Similar to Form 926, this filing arises when a US person (which includes not-for-profit organizations) transfers $100,000 or more in a given year, or if they own 10% or more of the foreign partnership. There are different levels of disclosure required for different categories of filers. Filings are also triggered by both direct and indirect investments. The penalty for failure to file varies by category type, ranging from $10,000 to up to $100,000 per missed filing.

FinCEN Form 114 – Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts

Commonly referred to as the FBAR, this form tracks assets that US taxpayers hold in offshore accounts, whether they be foreign bank accounts, brokerage accounts, or mutual funds. This form is required when the aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year. Further, any individual or entity that owns more than 50 percent of the account directly or indirectly must file the form. Lastly, individuals who have signature authority over accounts held by the organization are also required to file the FinCEN Form 114 with their individual income tax return. The penalty for failure to file can vary, but can be as high as 50 percent of the account’s value.

Please note: there is a specific definition of the term “foreign financial account” which excludes certain items from the definition. Organizations are encouraged to consult their tax advisors for more information.

Form 5471 – Information Return of US Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations

Form 5471 is required to be filed when ownership is at least 10% in a foreign corporation. There are different disclosures required for different categories of ownership. Organizations required to file Form 5471 are typically operating internationally and have ownership of a foreign corporation which triggers the filing, but this form would also apply to investments in foreign corporations if ownership is at least 10%. The penalty for failure to file is typically $10,000 per missed filing.

Recommendations to avoid the pitfalls of alternative investments

In order to avoid missed filing requirements, exempt organizations should ask their investment advisors if any investment will involve organizations outside of the United States. If the answer is “yes,” then your organization needs to understand any additional filing requirements up front in order to take into consideration any additional compliance costs related to foreign filings. You should review and share all relevant investment documentation and subsequent information (e.g., prospectus and any other offering materials) with your finance/accounting department, as well as your tax advisors—prior to investment.

We also recommend you engage in open and frequent communication with your investment managers and advisors (both within and outside the organization). Those who manage the entity’s investments should also stay in close contact with fund managers who can help communicate when assets are invested in a way that might trigger a foreign filing obligation.

As investment practices and strategies become increasingly complex, organizations need to stay vigilant and aware in this forever changing landscape. We’re here to help. If you have any questions or concerns about current investment holdings and potential foreign filings, please do not hesitate to reach out to a member of our not-for-profit tax team.

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Alternative investments: Potential pitfalls not-for-profit organizations need to know