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    Subject Term: "Employee benefit plans"

    4 publications with a total of 14 open recommendations
    Director: Charles A. Jeszeck
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To address the legal uncertainty stemming from ERISA preemption of state laws while maintaining the advantages of ERISA for both employers and workers, Congress should consider providing states limited flexibility to pursue efforts to increase coverage under workplace retirement savings programs. To do this, Congress could, for example, direct or authorize the Secretary of Labor, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, to (1) promulgate regulations prescribing a limited safe harbor under which state workplace retirement savings programs with sufficient safeguards would not be preempted and would receive tax treatment comparable to that provided to private sector workplace retirement savings programs, or (2) create a pilot program under which DOL could select a limited number of states to establish workplace retirement savings programs subject to DOL and Treasury oversight. In either case, any such initiative should ensure that state programs include adequate participant protections and are subject to agency oversight, appropriate reporting requirements, and meaningful evaluation.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: No action taken to date.
    Recommendation: To facilitate state efforts to expand coverage in workplace retirement savings programs, the Secretary of Labor and Secretary of the Treasury should consider their authority and review and revise, if necessary, existing regulations and guidance causing uncertainty for state efforts. For example, the Secretary of Labor could direct the Employee Benefits Security Administration's (EBSA) Assistant Secretary to revise Interpretive Bulletin 99-1 to clarify whether states can offer payroll deduction Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and, if so, whether features in relevant enacted state legislation--such as automatic enrollment and/or a requirement that employers offer a payroll deduction--would cause these programs to be treated as employee benefit plans.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL generally agreed with this recommendation. To address uncertainty facing state efforts, EBSA is initiating a regulatory agenda entitled ?Saving Arrangements Established by States for Non-Governmental Employees,? which will appear in the Fall 2015 Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda. On November 18, 2015, DOL published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on state payroll deduction IRA programs. Under the proposed rule, employers complying with the state law requirements would not create a retirement plan subject to ERISA as long as the state and the employer follows certain rules. They also also published a companion Interpretive Bulletin on the same day that describes ways in which states can promote the creation of ERISA-covered plans, fully subject to ERISA?s rules and protections, without triggering ERISA preemption. The public comment period for the proposed rule closed on January 19, 2016. EBSA is evaluating the 67 public comments submitted (and posted on EBSA?s website) and working towards drafting and clearance of a final rule. EBSA has also been providing technical assistance to several states and other jurisdictions about the Interpretive Bulletin. The Administration?s 2017 Budget also included legislative proposals for piloting innovative, more portable approaches to provide retirement and other employment-based benefits.
    Recommendation: To facilitate state efforts to expand coverage in workplace retirement savings programs, the Secretary of Labor and Secretary of the Treasury should consider their authority and review and revise, if necessary, existing regulations and guidance causing uncertainty for state efforts. For example, the Secretary of Labor could direct the Employee Benefits Security Administration's (EBSA) Assistant Secretary to revise Interpretive Bulletin 99-1 to clarify whether states can offer payroll deduction Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and, if so, whether features in relevant enacted state legislation--such as automatic enrollment and/or a requirement that employers offer a payroll deduction--would cause these programs to be treated as employee benefit plans.

    Agency: Department of the Treasury
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of the Treasury generally agreed with this recommendation and did not provide additional comments on actions to address it.
    Director: Charles Jeszeck
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To encourage plan sponsors to continue efforts to improve plan participation and overall retirement savings through the use of Qualified Default Investment Alternatives, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for the Employee Benefits Security Administration to assess the challenges that plan sponsors and stakeholders reported, including the extent to which these challenges can be addressed, and implement corrective actions through clarifying guidance or regulations, as appropriate.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2015, DOL noted that the agency would assess the challenges that plan sponsors and stakeholders had reported to GAO, decide in FY 2016 whether a broader public comment process (such as a Request for Information) or a research project would aid that assessment, and determine whether other actions, such as issuing clarifying guidance or regulations, would be beneficial to its stakeholders. In July 2016, DOL confirmed that the agency continues to plan to take the above action. In July 207, DOL responded that it had not added a public comment process to EBSA's 2017 regulatory agenda, and had no specific timeline for any next action.
    Director: Charlie Jeszeck
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve IRS's enforcement and compliance efforts, decrease the administrative and financial burden of maintaining both electronic and paper-based form processing systems, and reduce plan reporting costs, Congress should consider providing the Department of the Treasury with the authority to require that the Form 5500 series be filed electronically.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of 5/31/17, Congress has taken no action.
    Recommendation: To improve the usefulness, reliability, and comparability of Form 5500 data for all stakeholders while limiting the burden on the filing community, the Secretaries of DOL and Treasury, and the Director of PBGC should consider implementing the findings from our panel when modifying plan investment and service provider fee information, including: (1) revising Schedule H plan asset categories to better match current investment vehicles and provide more transparency into plan investments; (2) revising the Schedule of Assets attachments to create a standard searchable format; (3) developing a central repository for EIN and PN numbers for filers and service providers to improve the comparability of form data across filings; (4) clarifying Schedule C instructions for direct, eligible indirect, and reportable indirect compensation so plan fees are reported more consistently and, as we recommended in the past, better align with the 408(b)(2) fee disclosures; and (5) simplifying and clarify Schedule C service provider codes to increase reporting consistency.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2016, DOL in coordination with IRS and PBGC has implemented cross-year edit checks into EFAST in an effort to improve the consistency in key identifying information, such as the EIN, Plan Number and Plan Name. These checks aim to verify identifying information submitted on the Form 5500 and to notify the filer and government agencies of inconsistencies, which affords filers the ability to review and modify crucial identifying information prior to submission. Additionally, if the filer chooses to submit data that may contain inconsistent information, the edit test indicators provide government users with the ability to more readily detect filings containing potential errors in the identifying information for further review and correction. DOL has also collaborated with PBGC and IRS in issuing proposed revisions to the Form 5500 Series in a Notice of Proposed Forms Revisions. The deadline for public comment ended December 5, 2016. The proposed revisions in the Notice reflect efforts of DOL, IRS, and PBGC to improve the Form 5500 reporting for filers, the public, and the agencies by among other things, (1) modernizing financial information filed by regarding plans; (2) updating fee and expense information on plan service providers with a focus on harmonizing annual reporting requirement with DOL's 408(b)(2); financial disclosure requirements; (3) enhancing the ability to mine data files on annual returns/reports; and (4) improving compliance with ERISA and the Code through selected new questions regarding plan operation, service provider relationships, and financial management of plans. Specifically, in the Notice the agencies propose that Schedule H report assets held and assets disposed of during the plan year to provide more transparency and a more complete report of plan's annual investments and that that the Schedule of Assets be revised to require reporting of assets held through direct filing entities. Additionally, the agencies are proposing revisions to the Schedule H, Schedule of Assets that require filers to complete standardized Schedules in a format enabling data to captured electronically. This requirement would enable importation of information from the Schedules of Assets into structured databases that DOL would make available to the public from each year's Form 5500 Series filing. The agencies are also proposing to add clarifying definitions and instructions to improve the consistency of Form 5000 responses. This includes clarification of conventions to identify filers by name and identifying numbers to help mitigate confusion about legal identities with which plans transact and improve comparability of form data across filings. In addition, the agencies also propose revisions to Schedule C to require reporting of indirect compensation for service provider subject to 408(b)(2) requirements and for all compensation that is required to be disclosed. Further, the Schedule C instructions would be clarified to track more closely with the language of the 408(b)(2) regulations. The agencies are also proposing to limit the codes for Schedule C and requiring the filer to more simply indicate all types of services for each provider identified. Additionally, they propose a requirement to indicate all the types of fees/compensation separately when reporting sources of compensation from parties other than plan and plan sponsor. The agencies are reviewing the public comments and expect the process to continue through 2017. While the Agencies have made considerable efforts to address our recommendation in the proposed revisions to the Form 5500, they have not made any decisions on whether to make changes to the forms or DOL regulations, and have not decided on a timeline for implementation of any changes to the form or DOL regulations that the Agencies ultimately may decide to adopt. We will close this recommendation once the revision is final.
    Recommendation: To improve the usefulness, reliability, and comparability of Form 5500 data for all stakeholders while limiting the burden on the filing community, the Secretaries of DOL and Treasury, and the Director of PBGC should consider implementing the findings from our panel when modifying plan investment and service provider fee information, including: (1) revising Schedule H plan asset categories to better match current investment vehicles and provide more transparency into plan investments; (2) revising the Schedule of Assets attachments to create a standard searchable format; (3) developing a central repository for EIN and PN numbers for filers and service providers to improve the comparability of form data across filings; (4) clarifying Schedule C instructions for direct, eligible indirect, and reportable indirect compensation so plan fees are reported more consistently and, as we recommended in the past, better align with the 408(b)(2) fee disclosures; and (5) simplifying and clarify Schedule C service provider codes to increase reporting consistency.

    Agency: Department of the Treasury
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2016, DOL in coordination with IRS and PBGC has implemented cross-year edit checks into EFAST in an effort to improve the consistency in key identifying information, such as the EIN, Plan Number and Plan Name. These checks aim to verify identifying information submitted on the Form 5500 and to notify the filer and government agencies of inconsistencies, which affords filers the ability to review and modify crucial identifying information prior to submission. Additionally, if the filer chooses to submit data that may contain inconsistent information, the edit test indicators provide government users with the ability to more readily detect filings containing potential errors in the identifying information for further review and correction. IRS has also collaborated with DOL and PBGC in issuing proposed revisions to the Form 5500 Series in a Notice of Proposed Forms Revisions. The deadline for public comment ended December 5, 2016. The proposed revisions in the Notice reflect efforts of DOL, IRS, and PBGC to improve the Form 5500 reporting for filers, the public, and the agencies by among other things, (1) modernizing financial information filed by regarding plans; (2) updating fee and expense information on plan service providers with a focus on harmonizing annual reporting requirement with DOL's 408(b)(2); financial disclosure requirements; (3) enhancing the ability to mine data files on annual returns/reports; and (4) improving compliance with ERISA and the Code through selected new questions regarding plan operation, service provider relationships, and financial management of plans. Specifically, in the Notice the agencies propose that Schedule H report assets held and assets disposed of during the plan year to provide more transparency and a more complete report of plan's annual investments and that that the Schedule of Assets be revised to require reporting of assets held through direct filing entities. Additionally, the agencies are proposing revisions to the Schedule H, Schedule of Assets that require filers to complete standardized Schedules in a format enabling data to captured electronically. This requirement would enable importation of information from the Schedules of Assets into structured databases that DOL would make available to the public from each year's Form 5500 Series filing. The agencies are also proposing to add clarifying definitions and instructions to improve the consistency of Form 5000 responses. This includes clarification of conventions to identify filers by name and identifying numbers to help mitigate confusion about legal identities with which plans transact and improve comparability of form data across filings. In addition, the agencies also propose revisions to Schedule C to require reporting of indirect compensation for service provider subject to 408(b)(2) requirements and for all compensation that is required to be disclosed. Further, the Schedule C instructions would be clarified to track more closely with the language of the 408(b)(2) regulations. The agencies are also proposing to limit the codes for Schedule C and requiring the filer to more simply indicate all types of services for each provider identified. Additionally, they propose a requirement to indicate all the types of fees/compensation separately when reporting sources of compensation from parties other than plan and plan sponsor. The agencies are reviewing the public comments and expect the process to continue through 2017. While the Agencies have made considerable efforts to address our recommendation in the proposed revisions to the Form 5500, they have not made any decisions on whether to make changes to the forms or DOL regulations, and have not decided on a timeline for implementation of any changes to the form or DOL regulations that the Agencies ultimately may decide to adopt. We will close this recommendation once the revision is final.
    Recommendation: To improve the usefulness, reliability, and comparability of Form 5500 data for all stakeholders while limiting the burden on the filing community, the Secretaries of DOL and Treasury, and the Director of PBGC should consider implementing the findings from our panel when modifying plan investment and service provider fee information, including: (1) revising Schedule H plan asset categories to better match current investment vehicles and provide more transparency into plan investments; (2) revising the Schedule of Assets attachments to create a standard searchable format; (3) developing a central repository for EIN and PN numbers for filers and service providers to improve the comparability of form data across filings; (4) clarifying Schedule C instructions for direct, eligible indirect, and reportable indirect compensation so plan fees are reported more consistently and, as we recommended in the past, better align with the 408(b)(2) fee disclosures; and (5) simplifying and clarify Schedule C service provider codes to increase reporting consistency.

    Agency: Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2016, DOL in coordination with IRS and PBGC has implemented cross-year edit checks into EFAST in an effort to improve the consistency in key identifying information, such as the EIN, Plan Number and Plan Name. These checks aim to verify identifying information submitted on the Form 5500 and to notify the filer and government agencies of inconsistencies, which affords filers the ability to review and modify crucial identifying information prior to submission. Additionally, if the filer chooses to submit data that may contain inconsistent information, the edit test indicators provide government users with the ability to more readily detect filings containing potential errors in the identifying information for further review and correction. PBDC has also collaborated with DOL and IRS in issuing proposed revisions to the Form 5500 Series in a Notice of Proposed Forms Revisions. The deadline for public comment ended December 5, 2016. The proposed revisions in the Notice reflect efforts of DOL, IRS, and PBGC to improve the Form 5500 reporting for filers, the public, and the agencies by among other things, (1) modernizing financial information filed by regarding plans; (2) updating fee and expense information on plan service providers with a focus on harmonizing annual reporting requirement with DOL's 408(b)(2); financial disclosure requirements; (3) enhancing the ability to mine data files on annual returns/reports; and (4) improving compliance with ERISA and the Code through selected new questions regarding plan operation, service provider relationships, and financial management of plans. Specifically, in the Notice the agencies propose that Schedule H report assets held and assets disposed of during the plan year to provide more transparency and a more complete report of plan's annual investments and that that the Schedule of Assets be revised to require reporting of assets held through direct filing entities. Additionally, the agencies are proposing revisions to the Schedule H, Schedule of Assets that require filers to complete standardized Schedules in a format enabling data to captured electronically. This requirement would enable importation of information from the Schedules of Assets into structured databases that DOL would make available to the public from each year's Form 5500 Series filing. The agencies are also proposing to add clarifying definitions and instructions to improve the consistency of Form 5000 responses. This includes clarification of conventions to identify filers by name and identifying numbers to help mitigate confusion about legal identities with which plans transact and improve comparability of form data across filings. In addition, the agencies also propose revisions to Schedule C to require reporting of indirect compensation for service provider subject to 408(b)(2) requirements and for all compensation that is required to be disclosed. Further, the Schedule C instructions would be clarified to track more closely with the language of the 408(b)(2) regulations. The agencies are also proposing to limit the codes for Schedule C and requiring the filer to more simply indicate all types of services for each provider identified. Additionally, they propose a requirement to indicate all the types of fees/compensation separately when reporting sources of compensation from parties other than plan and plan sponsor. The agencies are reviewing the public comments and expect the process to continue through 2017. While the Agencies have made considerable efforts to address our recommendation in the proposed revisions to the Form 5500, they have not made any decisions on whether to make changes to the forms or DOL regulations, and have not decided on a timeline for implementation of any changes to the form or DOL regulations that the Agencies ultimately may decide to adopt. We will close this recommendation once any revision are made final.
    Director: Jeszeck, Charles A
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    6 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To increase the accuracy of "potential private pension benefit information" notices that SSA sends to Social Security claimants, Congress should consider legislation shifting responsibility and necessary resources to Labor for (a) electronically collecting form 8955-SSA information on participants' deferred vested benefits, (b) maintaining an accurate federal database of those benefits, and (c) periodically sending SSA accurate information about such benefits for recent Social Security claimants identified by SSA, so that SSA may provide notices to retirees.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of September 2017, no congressional action has been taken in response to this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To ease the burden on plan sponsors, enhance compliance, and help ensure that disclosures to participants are written in a manner that can be understood by the average participant, Labor, IRS, and PBGC should work together to create and regularly update a comprehensive online tool for plan sponsors to search for the reports and disclosures they are required to provide based on plan type, design, and circumstances.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: In November 2013, Labor officials said that they would consult with their colleagues at the Treasury Department/IRS and PBGC regarding creation of one unified online tool for plan adminstrators to search for the reports and disclosures they are required to submit based on a plan's type, design, and circumstances. However, in FY 2014, officials indicated that, although they will continue to consult with their other agency colleagues regarding creation of such a tool, they now tentativley disagree with the recommendation and believe that such a tool could be confusing, especially for small employers. In 2015, Labor raised concerns about this recommendation, continuing to question whether a unified tri-agency online tool would be valuable for sponsors of large pension plans and may be confusing to some plan sponsors, especially small employers. They further noted that they do not believe it would be appropriate for EBSA to adjust its regulatory or guidance priorities at this time or reallocate resources currently dedicated to other priority projects in order to further explore any possible merit of such an online tool. GAO continues to believe just the opposite, that a well-designed comprehensive online tool could be very helpful, especially for small employers. In FY 17, Labor reiterated its opinions from previous years.
    Recommendation: To ease the burden on plan sponsors, enhance compliance, and help ensure that disclosures to participants are written in a manner that can be understood by the average participant, Labor, IRS, and PBGC should work together to create and regularly update a comprehensive online tool for plan sponsors to search for the reports and disclosures they are required to provide based on plan type, design, and circumstances.

    Agency: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service
    Status: Open

    Comments: IRS officials initially noted that they are continuing their efforts to ensure that plan sponsors have access to comprehensive and up-to-date online resources. They said they had met with Labor and PBGC officials to discuss the value and feasibility of developing and maintaining a comprehensive online tool. However, with decreased resources, they believe it is unlikely for the agency to create and regularly update such a tool. However, they would continue to confer with Labor and PBGC colleagues to determine if it is possible to cross-reference existing agency resources online. As of September 2017, IRS has not provided an update on its efforts. GAO continues to believe that such a tool would be beneficial to plan sponsors of all sizes.
    Recommendation: To ease the burden on plan sponsors, enhance compliance, and help ensure that disclosures to participants are written in a manner that can be understood by the average participant, Labor, IRS, and PBGC should work together to define criteria for complying with the readability provisions in ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), and apply the criteria to agency-generated model notices as well as those developed by plan sponsors. As part of these criteria, consider requiring clear, simple, brief highlights at the beginning of disclosures, reflecting federal plain language guidelines.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: Labor officials stated that, while sensitive to plan sponsor concerns regarding liabilities that may result from ambiguities that arise when complex information is summarized using plain English criteria, they will, nevertheless, explore the application of readability standards in this context. Officials indicated they may decide it would be helpful to engage a contractor and undertake a survey or other data collection in order to evaluate this recommendation, but do not have resources budgeted in FY 2014 for such an exercise. In the meantime, they plan to continue to use modern communication techniques (such as focus group testing) to improve the effectiveness of their model notices and other standardized disclosures. In 2015, Labor reported that they need to explore the application of readability standards in light of concerns about liabilities that may result from ambiguities when complex information is summarized or presented using "plain English" criteria. Contracting for data collection would help them make an informed evaluation of this recommendation but they do not have the budgeted resources and believe it would not be appropriate to adjust priorities or reallocate resources. They will use techniques such as focus group testing to improve the effectiveness model notices and other standardized disclosures. GAO continues to believe it is important to implement a requirement to have clear, simple, brief highlights. In FY 17, Labor noted that the agency had not yet made a decision regarding future rulemaking and had suggested that the ERISA advisory counsel look at the effectiveness of disclosures.
    Recommendation: To ease the burden on plan sponsors, enhance compliance, and help ensure that disclosures to participants are written in a manner that can be understood by the average participant, Labor, IRS, and PBGC should work together to define criteria for complying with the readability provisions in ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), and apply the criteria to agency-generated model notices as well as those developed by plan sponsors. As part of these criteria, consider requiring clear, simple, brief highlights at the beginning of disclosures, reflecting federal plain language guidelines.

    Agency: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service
    Status: Open

    Comments: IRS officials said that they are committed to using the Federal Plain Language Guidelines as a resource in preparing model disclosures and that they will consider including brief highlights at the beginning of model disclosures. They said that it is unclear that imposing defined readability criteria on employer and plan communications is in the best interests of plan participants, administrators, sponsors, and the retirement system as a whole. However, they do see merit in directing employers and plan sponsors to the Guidelines as a resource for developing readable notices and disclosures, and are considering how best to communicate that resource to stakeholders. As of September 2017, IRS has not provided an update on these efforts.
    Recommendation: To better ensure plan participants have access to information about their rights and benefits, as currently in force under their plans, Labor should direct plan sponsors to post to any intranet website maintained by the employer, as soon as determined feasible by Labor, a copy of the most current summary plan description (SPD) and any summary of material modifications issued subsequent to that SPD.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: Labor officials said that they generally support implementing such a requirement, subject to a legal determination of their authority absent legislation to issue such a directive. However, rather than addressing the recommendation as a stand-alone item, they believe it would be better to consider the benefits of such an intranet posting requirement in connection with efforts to expand or modify disclosure standards in response to their 2011 Request for Information (RFI) regarding electronic disclosure. Moreover, officials noted that, during FY 2014, Labor was focusing its regulatory resources on other higher priority projects and did not have a specific timeline for any next action on e-disclosure issues. In their 2015 response, Labor reiterated their agreement from agency comments. Based on comments from their RFI, they understand that many plan sponsors, especially those that have intranet websites, already post plan-related information for employees and that input from consumer advocates that have expressed concern about replacing employees? paper disclosure rights under ERISA with internet access. Labor has not added an e-disclosure project to its regulatory agenda but is still focusing its regulatory resources on other higher priority projects. GAO continues to believe that this is an important pursuit. In FY 17, Labor stated that they do not have any specific timeline for actions on e-disclosures.