Retirement Savings:

Opportunities to Improve DOL's SAVER Act Campaign

GAO-01-634: Published: Jun 26, 2001. Publicly Released: Jun 26, 2001.

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Many of today's workers may not be financially prepared for retirement when they stop working. Many people are counting on Social Security alone, without an additional retirement plan. The Savings Are Vital to Everyone's Retirement (SAVER) Act of 1997 requires the Department of Labor (DOL) to hold periodic national summits and run an outreach program to promote retirement saving. This report (1) identifies major accomplishments of the 1998 summit and issues that might affect future summits, (2) describes DOL's outreach program, and (3) determines what DOL knows about the effectiveness of the summit and outreach program. GAO found that the 1998 National Summit made progress in identifying problems that workers face in saving for retirement. DOL's Outreach Program--the Retirement Savings Education Campaign--targets of small business owners, women, minorities, and youth to change the way they think about, and act on, their retirement saving needs. DOL has not tried to assess the extent to which outreach efforts from the 1998 National Summit and Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration have increased the public's knowledge and understanding of retirement savings.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOL contracted with the Gallup organization to conduct focus groups to evaluate existing retirement savings materials used in the Retirement Savings Education Campaign. According to DOL officials, Gallup surveyed recipients of the Savings Fitness publication, and DOL revised the publication based on that feedback. In order to determine the effectiveness of new print ads, DOL is tracking callers to determine how many request publications, how many seek advice from Benefits Advisors, and how many sign up to participate in the "American Savers" program. Gallup also surveys all attendees of DOL's small employer and pension fiduciary education seminars.

    Recommendation: DOL should develop and implement a method for measuring the effectiveness of the major activities of its outreach program. While GAO recognizes the potential costs and difficulties of measuring the effectiveness of an outreach program, DOL needs to undertake such an effort so that it has the information necessary to make the best use of its limited resources. The Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary of Labor, Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration (PWBA), to assess the results of program activities compared to their intended purpose. For example, DOL could survey individuals on their improved understanding, changed attitudes, or actions taken as a result of reading DOL's educational materials or visiting DOL's Internet site.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOL contracted with the Gallup organization to conduct focus group sessions to evaluate exiting retirement savings materials used in its campaign. A contractor also evaluated the appropriate role for DOL in retirement savings education, and made recommendations that DOL more narrowly focus its campaign and develop a measurement strategy. Based on these recommendations, DOL revised its retirement savings education plan, including incorporating the use of pre- and post-surveys of program participants to assess the effectiveness of future outreach activities.

    Recommendation: While GAO recognizes the potential costs and difficulties of measuring the effectiveness of an outreach program, DOL needs to undertake such an effort so that it has the information necessary to make the best use of its limited resources. The Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary of Labor, PWBA, to appropriately size the scope and methodology of the evaluation effort for a $900,000 outreach program. Depending on the level of funding, such an effort could range from calling recipients or users of the materials to determine their views on its quality or effectiveness to a more formal effort by researchers to assess the quality and effectiveness of the entire outreach program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOL has worked with private-sector organizations and other federal agencies to develop effective measures of its Retirement Savings Education Campaign. DOL has sought to work with the American Savings Education Council to develop an evaluation program to look at multiple initiatives designed to change individuals' savings behavior. DOL has also suggested that the Financial Literacy and Education Commission (of which DOL is a member) consider establishing an evaluation program to look at the effectiveness of the government operated programs designed to increase overall financial literacy.

    Recommendation: While GAO recognizes the potential costs and difficulties of measuring the effectiveness of an outreach program, DOL needs to undertake such an effort so that it has the information necessary to make the best use of its limited resources. The Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary of Labor, PWBA, to explore the potential use of partners in the private sector or the financial education community that could help design a cost-effective measurement program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

 

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