Social Security reform off until fall

Republican leaders have said that movement on President Bush's plans to overhaul Social Security is unlikely to happen until after Congress' August recess.

Several politicians released statements after a planned Social Security strategy session was cut short. No votes or agreements were made during the session in early July, and no plans have been made for another meeting.

"There are competing demands for the time of senators and House members, so work will probably continue well after the August recess," said Iowa's Sen. Charles Grassley, chair of the Finance Committee, in a statement. "I won't give up trying to bridge the divide. The sooner we act, the better the choices we have to secure Social Security."

Grassley has led a Republican review of a number of Social Security proposals to increase the retirement age, change the way that benefits are calculated, or both. Democrats have refused to participate in the negotiations, arguing that President Bush's plan to fund private accounts with payroll taxes would weaken Social Security's guaranteed benefits.

PwC to pay $41M for travel billing

PricewaterhouseCoopers will pay $41.9 million in civil penalties to settle claims that it over-billed the government for travel-related expenses.

The U.S. Justice Department announced in early July that the settlement involves bills paid directly by the Defense Department and other federal agencies that used PwC, as well as inflated bills passed on to the government by contractors working on federal projects.

The agreement follows a federal False Claims Act lawsuit that was filed in 2001, which prompted an investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office. A company spokesman said that PwC had already changed the policy before becoming aware of the government investigation.

PricewaterhouseCoopers previously paid $54.5 million to settle its share of a class-action lawsuit over travel-billing issues in another case filed in 2001 in state court in Texarkana, Ark., which accused the firm and others of over-billing clients by charging them the full face amount of travel costs, while receiving back-end rebates from vendors.

Fined in Norway, KPMG fights in U.S.

The Norwegian branch of KPMG International was ordered to pay $100 million in damages in early July, after Oslo's district court found that the accounting group was negligent in auditing the books of Finance Credit. KPMG International has said that it will appeal.

Finance Credit's 2003 bankruptcy was one of the worst in the country's history, and it owed about $200 million to eight different banks when it went out of business. The company's founder was sentenced to nine years in prison and ordered to pay $185 million earlier this year, after he was found guilty of fraud, hiding assets and other accounting violations.

In its ruling, the Oslo court said that, by the close of 2000, Finance Credit was insolvent, which KPMG's Norwegian branch should have realized. Ironically, Finance Credit offered collection agency services.

Meanwhile, a month after KPMG United States acknowledged "full responsibility for the unlawful conduct by former KPMG partners" in a tax shelter case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, the company is looking to start shoring up a defense.

Lawyers for the U.S.-based division of KPMG filed court papers in Texas, seeking the ability to talk to plaintiffs who have filed civil lawsuits against the company. Investigators have said that tax shelters sold by KPMG may have helped clients avoid paying about $1.4 billion in taxes between 1996 and 2002. KPMG also wants to talk to the plaintiffs' personal tax advisors about what they knew about the shelters and why they failed to disclose them on their individual income tax returns.

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