Employee Benefit Plans:

Efforts to Streamline Reporting Requirements and Improve Processing of Annual Plan Data

HEHS-98-45R: Published: Nov 14, 1997. Publicly Released: Nov 14, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the status of the Department of Labor's (DOL) efforts to streamline the Form 5500 Report and automate processing of the forms, focusing on: (1) the uses of the Form 5500 Reports; (2) the status of government efforts to streamline the Form 5500 Reports and reporting and filing requirements; and (3) actions that have been taken to expedite processing of the forms.

GAO noted that: (1) Form 5500 Report data are used for Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) enforcement and are made available to the public for research; (2) DOL also makes the reports available to plan participants and beneficiaries through its public disclosure office; (3) to simplify Form 5500 Reports and lessen the burden on filers, DOL, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation have proposed using a streamlined form for the 1998 plan year; (4) the revised main form is to serve as a short registration document, and appropriate schedules (or attachments) are to be filed with the form; (5) the revised Form 5500 Report is expected to reduce the total paper filing burden by 12 to 14 percent annually over the 10-year life of the form; (6) the Congress reduced reporting requirements by eliminating the summary plan description filing requirement, which is expected to save plan administrators $2.5 million and 150,000 paper filing burden hours annually; (7) however, although DOL and IRS have improved Form 5500 Report processing, problems remain; (8) as a result, DOL is developing a new processing system, the ERISA Filing Acceptance System (EFAST), to be operated by a private contractor by 1999; (9) the system, designed to accommodate the needs of all three agencies, will use optical scanning technology to computerize paper Form 5500 Report filings, reducing the costs and burden on filers and the government; and (10) DOL issued a request for proposals for the system on October 24, 1997, and plans to issue a contract for full development and operation by April 1999.

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