Retirement Security:

Interim Report on the Department of Labor's Management of the ERISA Enforcement Program

HRD-85-82: Published: Jun 24, 1985. Publicly Released: Jul 5, 1985.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on its ongoing review of the Department of Labor's management of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) enforcement program.

The Office of Pension and Welfare Benefit Programs (OPWBP) is responsible for enforcing ERISA reporting, disclosure, and fiduciary provisions. In 1984, OPWBP reported closing 2,454 cases, and $93 million in assets were recovered or safeguarded. Despite its accomplishments, the program for protecting pension plan benefits has been criticized over the last 10 years by a number of organizations. In 1984, a work group reported that the ERISA enforcement program was unable to maintain credibility within the employee benefit plan community because there was no assurance that ERISA violations would be detected and corrected. GAO found that the program has lacked a consistent long-term strategy, and as a result, there is not adequate assurance that plans most likely to be in violation of the act were being selected, or that limited OPWBP resources have been effectively applied. Three area offices, which GAO reviewed, all used different bases for case selection, and only one had attempted to evaluate the effectiveness of its methods. There has also been a frequent turnover of key program officials resulting in changes in enforcement policy, and the small size of the investigator and auditor staff has enabled OPWBP to review only 1 percent of the plans each year. Finally, since 1977, the training provided for ERISA staff has been limited and inadequate. Although Labor has recently taken action to reorganize the enforcement program, certain long-standing problems still persist.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Secretary of Labor approved a long-term enforcement strategy in December 1986.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should direct OPWBP to develop a comprehensive, long-term enforcement strategy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During 1987, Labor modified the strategy's case tracking system to ensure the necessary measurement of the progress and results of the investigations conducted under the plan. There will be an ongoing assessment of accomplishments and the need for any modification of issues pursued under the plan. Significant issue cases are being tracked separately.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should periodically track the progress of the enforcement strategy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Managers' rating standards have been changed to include implementation of the strategy as a critical element.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should hold key program managers accountable for adhering to the strategy and producing results unless changes are adequately justified and approved.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

 

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