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    Topic: "Retirement Security"

    25 publications with a total of 102 open recommendations including 7 priority recommendations
    Director: Jeszeck, Charles A
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: Congress should consider establishing an independent commission to comprehensively examine the U.S. retirement system and make recommendations to clarify key policy goals for the system and improve how the nation can promote more stable retirement security. We suggest that such a commission include representatives from government agencies, employers, the financial services industry, unions, participant advocates, and researchers, among others, to help inform policymakers on changes needed to improve the current U.S. retirement system.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.
    Director: Michael Clements
    Phone: (202) 512-8678

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Chief Investment Officer of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service should fully implement key practices to increase opportunities for MWO asset managers as part of its selection processes. Specifically, the Chief Investment Officer should complete actions related to top leadership commitment and removing potential barriers. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency: Department of Defense: Army and Air Force Exchange Service
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Chief Investment Officer of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board should use key practices as appropriate to increase opportunities for MWO asset managers if and when implementing its mutual fund window platform. Specifically, the Chief Investment Officer should take actions to demonstrate top leadership commitment, remove potential barriers, conduct outreach to MWO firms, and communicate its priorities and expectations for an inclusive selection process to its staff and consultants if and when it begins to search for a mutual fund window platform. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency: Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Chief Investment Officer of the Navy Exchange Service Command should fully implement key practices to increase opportunities for MWO asset managers as part of its selection processes. Specifically, the Chief Investment Officer should take actions to demonstrate top leadership commitment, and to the extent that staff and resources are a constraint, should direct its consultant to conduct outreach to MWO firms and communicate its priorities and expectations for an inclusive selection process by requesting its consultant conduct more inclusive asset manager searches specifically for the Navy Exchange Service Command. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy: Navy Exchange Service Command
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Chief Investment Officer of the Tennessee Valley Authority Retirement System should fully implement key practices to increase opportunities for MWO asset managers as part of its selection processes. Specifically, the Chief Investment Officer should take actions to demonstrate top leadership commitment, and to the extent that staff and resources are a constraint, should direct its consultant to conduct outreach to MWO firms and communicate its priorities and expectations for an inclusive selection process by requesting its consultant conduct more inclusive asset manager searches specifically for the Tennessee Valley Authority Retirement System. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency: Tennessee Valley Authority: Retirement System
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Director: Barbara Bovbjerg
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    5 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the agency to develop a long-term facility plan that explicitly links to SSA's strategic goals for service delivery, and includes a strategy for consolidating or downsizing field offices in light of increasing use of and geographic variation in remote service delivery.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendations and noted steps it plans to take to enable further reduction in its footprint, such as co-locating field and hearing offices and reducing warehouse space. SSA will also work within the existing Memorandum of Understanding to conduct a proof of concept on space sharing by employees who telework.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the agency to reassess and, if needed, revise its field office space standards to ensure they provide sufficient flexibility to accommodate both unexpected growth in the demand for services and new service delivery technologies.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendations and noted steps it plans to take to enable further reduction in its footprint.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the agency to ensure the Real Estate and Lease Tracking application has the capacity to accurately track the composition of SSA's office inventory over time.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendations and noted steps it plans to take to enable further reduction in its footprint.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the agency to develop a cost-effective approach to identifying the most common issues with online benefit claims that require staff follow-up with applicants, and use this information to inform improvements to the online claims process.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendations and noted steps it plans to take to enable further reduction in its footprint.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the agency for its alternative customer services approaches, including desktop icons and video services in third-party sites, to develop performance goals and collect performance data related to these goals.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendations and noted steps it plans to take to enable further reduction in its footprint, such as expanding video hearing capacity.
    Director: Rusco, Franklin W
    Phone: (202)512-3841

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Board of Directors should ensure that TVA better document and communicate its goals to reduce its debt and unfunded pension liabilities in its performance plans and reports, including detailed strategies for achieving these goals.

    Agency: Tennessee Valley Authority
    Status: Open

    Comments: TVA concurred with this recommendation and said it would take steps to implement it. When we confirm what actions the TVA has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Board of Directors should ensure that TVA propose, and work with the TVA Retirement System board to adopt, funding rules designed to ensure the plan's full funding.

    Agency: Tennessee Valley Authority
    Status: Open

    Comments: TVA neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. We continue to believe action is needed and will monitor TVA's efforts to address it.
    Director: Allison Bawden
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    6 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To preserve the balance between the importance of repaying federal student loan debt and protecting a minimum level of Social Security benefits put in place by the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996, Congress should consider modifying Social Security administrative offset provisions, such as by authorizing the Department of the Treasury to annually index the amount of Social Security benefits exempted from administrative offset to reflect changes in the cost of living over time.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of August 2017, Congress has not yet taken action on this matter.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should inform affected borrowers of the suspension of offset and potential consequences if the borrower does not take action to apply for a TPD discharge. Such information could include notification that interest continues to accrue and that offsets may resume once their disability benefits are converted to retirement benefits.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education does not currently notify borrowers of the suspension of offset, but plans to implement a process to do so in the future using a new mailing sent to affected borrowers by their default servicer. The current budget situation does not allow for this type of enhancement, and it is not clear when that will change. In the interim, the agency is exploring alternative notification approaches that could be put in place prior to the implementation of an automated solution. We will monitor the agency's progress.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should revise forms sent to borrowers already approved for a TPD discharge to clearly and prominently state that failure to provide annual income verification documentation during the 3-year monitoring period will result in loan reinstatement.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education stated that the current Office of Management and Budget (OMB) TPD-Post discharge forms contain the recommended language in the first bullet of the Earned Income Section. In order to more clearly provide this information they recommended that the new OMB form, which is in its public comment period, (1) use a larger font size for the form and (2) use "plain language." GAO will consider closing this recommendation when the agency has completed this effort.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should evaluate the feasibility and benefits of implementing an automated income verification process, including determining whether the agency has the necessary legal authority to implement such a process.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education stated that over the next six months, they are committed to working with SSA to determine the feasibility and benefits of implementing an automated income verification process. The verification will address both the legal authority to implement such a process as well as operational and budgetary feasibility. We will monitor the agency's progress.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should inform borrowers about the financial hardship exemption option and application process on the agency's website, as well as the notice of offset sent to borrowers.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education agrees with the recommendation and said that they will include this change in upcoming revisions to the agency's web content. The agency reported that the Notice of Offset to borrowers is sent by Treasury and that they will share this recommendation with Treasury and discuss possible changes to the notice. We will consider closing this recommendation when the agency has completed this effort.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should implement an annual review process to ensure that only eligible borrowers are exempted from offset for financial hardship on an ongoing basis.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education reported that it plans plan to fully automate their process for tracking hardships and other exceptions from offset. However, due to competing priorities and funding limitations, full implementation of these improvements have not been scheduled. As they fully implement this process, they will review complementary strategies to assist borrowers in complying with annual reporting requirements. We will monitor the agency's progress.
    Director: Charles Jeszeck
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    6 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure that current vesting policies appropriately balance plans' needs and interests with the needs of workers to have employment mobility while also saving for retirement, Treasury should evaluate the appropriateness of existing maximum vesting policies for account-based plans, considering today's mobile labor force, and seek legislative action to revise vesting schedules, if deemed necessary. The Department of Labor could provide assistance with such an evaluation.

    Agency: Department of the Treasury
    Status: Open

    Comments: Treasury did not provide formal comments for this recommendation. The Department of Labor's comments noted that Treasury and IRS will consult with them on subjects of joint interest and Labor will provide assistance as requested. We will monitor the agency's progress.
    Recommendation: To help participants better understand eligibility and vesting policies, the Department of Labor (DOL) should develop guidance for plan sponsors that identifies best practices for communicating information about eligibility and vesting policies in a clear manner in summary plan descriptions. For example, DOL could discourage plans from including in documents information about employer contributions or other provisions that are not actually being used by the plan sponsor.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Labor disagreed with this recommendation stating that it would not be appropriate at this time to reallocate resources from its existing priority projects to a new project to identify "best practices" for communicating information about eligibility and vesting policies in a clear manner in the summary plan descriptions. The agency noted that in FY17, it will review its existing outreach material on plan administration and compliance for opportunities to highlight the issues and recommendations in our report. It will also consider this recommendation in its ongoing development and prioritization of EBSA's agenda for regulations and sub-regulatory guidance.
    Recommendation: To help increase plan participation and individuals' retirement savings, Congress should consider updating ERISA's 401(k) plan eligibility provisions to extend plan eligibility to otherwise eligible workers at an age earlier than 21.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of August 2017, Congress has not yet taken action on this matter.
    Recommendation: To help increase plan participation and individuals' retirement savings, Congress should consider updating ERISA's 401(k) plan eligibility provisions to amend the definition of "year of service," given the prevalence of part-time workers in today's workforce.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we obtain information on actions taken by the Congress, we will a update.
    Recommendation: Congress should consider whether ERISA's provisions related to the timing of employer matching contributions need to be adjusted to reflect today's mobile workforce and workplace plans, which are predominantly 401(k) plans offering matching employer contributions.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we obtain information on actions taken by the Congress, we will a update.
    Recommendation: Congress should consider whether ERISA's provisions related to last day policies need to be adjusted to reflect today's mobile workforce and workplace plans, which are predominantly 401(k) plans offering matching employer contributions.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we obtain information on actions taken by the Congress, we will a update.
    Director: Jeszeck, Charles A
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    6 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To ensure that key information provided by claims specialists to potential claimants of Social Security retirement benefits is clear and consistent with POMS, the Commissioner of the SSA should take steps to ensure when applicable, claims specialists inform that delaying claiming will result in permanently higher monthly benefit amounts, and at least offer to provide claimants their estimated benefits at their current age, at full retirement age (FRA) (unless the claimant is already older than FRA), and age 70.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: On 10/19/16, SSA sent a message to technicians (including claims representatives who discuss claiming with clients in field offices or over the phone) reminding them to 1) inform claimants that delaying results in permanently higher benefits; and 2) provide estimated benefits at different claiming ages. While the reminder message to claims specialists is a positive step by the agency, SSA should continue to send periodic messages about these requirements to claims specialists. Further, SSA should have field office managers periodically discuss best practices for providing this information to potential claimants at office training sessions.
    Recommendation: To ensure that key information provided by claims specialists to potential claimants of Social Security retirement benefits is clear and consistent with POMS, the Commissioner of the SSA should take steps to ensure claims specialists understand that they should avoid the use of breakeven analysis to compare benefits at different claiming ages.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: On 10/19/16, SSA sent a message to technicians (including claims representatives who discuss claiming with clients in field offices or over the phone) reminding them not to use breakeven analysis or discuss breakeven points with claimants to compare benefits at different claiming ages. While the reminder message to claims specialists is a positive step by the agency, SSA should continue to send periodic messages to claims specialist to ensure that they understand the requirement to avoid use of breakeven analysis to compare benefits at different claiming ages.
    Recommendation: To ensure potential claimants are consistently provided with key information during the claiming process to help them make informed decisions about when to claim benefits, SSA should take steps to ensure that when applicable, claims specialists inform claimants that monthly benefit amounts are determined by the highest (indexed) 35 years of earnings, and that in some cases, additional work could increase benefits.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA reported that, as appropriate, it will issue a reminder to technicians or include instructions in SSA's Program and Operations Manual System (POMS) to reinforce the instructions. The agency did not provide information on how it plans to include this information in the online claims process.
    Recommendation: To ensure potential claimants are consistently provided with key information during the claiming process to help them make informed decisions about when to claim benefits, SSA should take steps to ensure that when appropriate, claims specialists clearly explain the retirement earnings test and inform claimants that any benefits withheld because of earnings above the earnings limit will result in higher monthly benefits starting at FRA.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: On 10/19/16, SSA sent a message to technicians (including claims representatives who discuss claiming with clients in field offices or over the phone) reminding them to inform claimants that any amounts withheld due to earnings (over limits) will result in higher benefits later on. While the reminder message to claims specialists is a positive step by the agency, SSA should continue to send periodic messages to claims specialist reinforcing the importance of explaining the earnings test, and informing potential claimants that any benefits withheld due to earnings will result in higher benefits starting at FRA. Further, SSA should have field office managers periodically discuss best practices for providing this information to potential claimants at office training sessions.
    Recommendation: To ensure potential claimants are consistently provided with key information during the claiming process to help them make informed decisions about when to claim benefits, SSA should take steps to ensure that claims specialists explain that lump sum retroactive benefits will result in a permanent reduction of monthly benefits. For the online claiming process, SSA should evaluate removing or revising the online question that asks claimants to provide a reason for not choosing retroactive benefits.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA stated that it will issue a reminder to technicians, instructing them to explain that a lump sum retroactive benefit would result in a permanent reduction in monthly benefits; or include instructions in SSA's Program and Operations Manual System (POMS). As for the question included in the online process, SSA said it will explore the underlying rationale for this question and consider modifying the question.
    Recommendation: To ensure potential claimants are consistently provided with key information during the claiming process to help them make informed decisions about when to claim benefits, SSA should take steps to ensure that the claims process include basic information on how life expectancy and longevity risk may affect the decision to claim benefits.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA updated Pub No. 05-10147 to mention that: 1) monthly benefits are higher for the rest of one's life the longer one delays claiming; 2) retirement may be longer than you think; and 3) for married couples, delaying claiming may increase survivor benefits. SSA also added a new question on this topic to its frequently asked questions (FAQ) page, "At what age should I start receiving my Social Security Retirement benefits?" The answer provides key information for individuals to consider, and links to the newly updated publication, the Retirement Estimator tool, and other resources that SSA offers. Updating and improving a key publication on this topic is a positive step by the agency. However, it is not clear if claimants will be able to access this information while they are applying for retirement benefits online. Further, SSA did not specify how it plans to instruct claims specialists to provide information on life expectancy and longevity risk during the in-person claims process.
    Director: Jeszeck, Charles A
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    7 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Department of Labor (DOL) should help encourage plan sponsors to offer lifetime income options by clarifying the safe harbor from liability for selecting an annuity provider by providing sufficiently detailed criteria to better enable plan sponsors to comply with the safe harbor requirements related to assessing a provider's long-term solvency.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL stated that a clarification might erode consumer protections by degrading the oversight of fiduciaries making such selections and suggested that the plan fiduciaries outsource these decisions to a financial institution as an investment manager under Section 3(38) of ERISA. While we recognize the challenging process for plan sponsors prudently offering an in-plan annuity, we believe this strategy relies on a plan having access to something specific: a deferred annuity embedded in a target date fund and very few plans offer deferred annuities. It is not clear whether such a service would be available and affordable to the bulk of 401(k) plan sponsors.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of the DOL should help encourage plan sponsors to offer lifetime income options by considering providing legal relief for plan fiduciaries offering an appropriate mix of annuity and withdrawal options, upon adequately informing participants about the options, before participants choose to direct their investments into them.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: DOL stated that it is open to considering alternative regulatory approaches, and will include the recommendations as part of its ongoing development and prioritization of its agenda. DOL commented that the statutory structure explicitly provided by section 404(c) of ERISA pertaining to "investments" may not extend to annuities, although annuities are included as qualified default investment alternatives already. They also expressed concern that it might move the responsibility for the selection of the annuity provider to the participant, although DOL officials told us they believe plan fiduciaries maintain investment selection responsibility currently under 404(c). DOL suggested an alternative outsourcing solution to put the evaluation of the annuity provider in the hands of fiduciaries with financial expertise without the need of a regulation to reduce the obligations fiduciaries have to protect participants' interests. However, we believe this focuses solely on annuities and does not address the need for the same broad array of alternatives and information about them that 404(c) creates in the accumulation phase. We will close this recommendation when DOL either determines internally that it lacks authority to expand 404(c) to the decumulation phase or shows an intent to solicit stakeholder views as to how a prudent mix of options might be incentivized while maintaining sufficient participant protections.
    Recommendation: To guide fiduciaries as they consider how the account balances of their participants will translate into financial security in retirement, DOL should modify its Meeting Your Fiduciary Responsibilities publication or issue new guidance to encourage plan sponsors to use a record keeper that includes annuities from multiple providers on their record keeping platform.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL stated that it reviewed its publications to explore ways to encourage use of products and arrangements designed to provide participants and beneficiaries a lifetime income stream after retirement, and it is working on ways to build on them to better educate participants and plan sponsors about the need to think of making retirement savings last throughout retirement.
    Recommendation: To guide fiduciaries as they consider how the account balances of their participants will translate into financial security in retirement, DOL should modify its Meeting Your Fiduciary Responsibilities publication or issue new guidance to encourage plan sponsors to offer participants the option to partially annuitize their account balance by allowing them the ability to purchase the amount of guaranteed lifetime income most appropriate for them.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL stated that it reviewed its publications to explore ways to encourage use of products and arrangements designed to provide participants and beneficiaries a lifetime income stream after retirement, and it is working on ways to build on them to better educate participants and plan sponsors about the need to think of making retirement savings last throughout retirement.
    Recommendation: To guide fiduciaries as they consider how the account balances of their participants will translate into financial security in retirement, DOL should modify its Meeting Your Fiduciary Responsibilities publication or issue new guidance to encourage plan sponsors to consider whether a contract with a service provider ensures future service provider changes do not cause participants to lose the value of their lifetime income guarantees.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL stated that it reviewed its publications to explore ways to encourage use of products and arrangements designed to provide participants and beneficiaries a lifetime income stream after retirement, and it is working on ways to build on them to better educate participants and plan sponsors about the need to think of making retirement savings last throughout retirement.
    Recommendation: To guide fiduciaries as they consider how the account balances of their participants will translate into financial security in retirement, DOL should modify its Meeting Your Fiduciary Responsibilities publication or issue new guidance to encourage plan sponsors to include participant access to advice on the plan's lifetime income options from an expert in retirement income strategies.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL stated that it reviewed its publications to explore ways to encourage use of products and arrangements designed to provide participants and beneficiaries a lifetime income stream after retirement, and it is working on ways to build on them to better educate participants and plan sponsors about the need to think of making retirement savings last throughout retirement.
    Recommendation: To guide fiduciaries as they consider how the account balances of their participants will translate into financial security in retirement, DOL should modify its Meeting Your Fiduciary Responsibilities publication or issue new guidance to encourage plan sponsors to consider providing RMD-based default income-plan distributions as a default stream of lifetime income based on the RMD methodology-beginning, unless they opt-out, when retirement-age participants separate from employment, rather than after age 70½.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL stated that it reviewed its publications to explore ways to encourage use of products and arrangements designed to provide participants and beneficiaries a lifetime income stream after retirement, and it is working on ways to build on them to better educate participants and plan sponsors about the need to think of making retirement savings last throughout retirement.
    Director: bertonid@gao.gov
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    8 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should clarify its policy for assessing the reasonableness of expenses used in determining beneficiaries' repayment amounts to help ensure that withholding plans are consistently established across the agency and accurately reflect individuals' ability to pay.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As a result of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, SSA gained the ability to use the Access to Financial Information (AFI) system to verify information about the assets of beneficiaries. In February 2017, the agency reported it is continuing to work on clarifying its policy for assessing the reasonableness of expenses used in determining repayment amounts, including guidance on using the new AFI process. As part of this effort, SSA is also reviewing the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Collection Financial Standards and determining whether it can incorporate these or similar standards in its policies for determining reasonable repayment amounts. We will continue to track SSA's efforts to clarify its policies, including efforts to incorporate IRS standards.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should improve oversight of DI benefit withholding agreements to ensure that they are completed appropriately. This could include requiring supervisory review of repayment plans or sampling plans as part of a quality control process, and requiring that supporting documentation for all withholding plans be retained to enable the agency to perform such oversight.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation, but does not believe that it is necessary to conduct supervisory reviews. As of February 2017, SSA reported that it is exploring system, policy, and training opportunities to better ensure staff appropriately complete benefit withholding agreements. We will continue to track SSA's efforts to improve oversight in this area.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should explore the feasibility of using additional methods to independently verify financial information provided by beneficiaries to ensure that complete and reliable information is used when determining repayment amounts. These additional tools could include those already being used by the agency for other purposes.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to SSA, Section 834 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 gave the agency the authority to use the Access to Financial Information system as part of the agency's waiver determination process. SSA reported that, as of February 2017, it also considered using the National Directory of New Hires Query for verifying an overpaid beneficiary's financial information, but preliminarily determined that the information in this system would be of limited value since it is a quarterly report of past earnings. SSA states that it continues to explore other options to verify financial information such as The Work Number and the Interstate Benefit Inquiry. We will monitor SSA's efforts to explore additional options for verifying financial information.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should adjust the minimum withholding rate to 10 percent of monthly DI benefits to allow quicker recovery of debt.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and as of April 2017, it estimated that this would result in an additional $213 million in collections over a 5-year period. The fiscal year 2017 President's budget submission contained a legislative proposal to make this change, but has not yet been enacted. In April 2017, the agency reported that, in the third quarter of fiscal year 2017, it intends to resubmit a regulatory change to establish the minimum withholding rate to 10 percent in the event that its legislative proposal is not included in the fiscal year 2017 budget.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should consider adjusting monthly withholding amounts according to cost of living adjustments or charging interest on debts being collected by withholding benefits. Should SSA determine that it is necessary to do so, it could pursue legislative authority to use recovery tools that it is currently unable to use.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of February 2017, SSA continued to disagree with this recommendation. For debt subject to benefit withholding, which is not considered delinquent debt, SSA asserted that these measures would not have a significant effect on the amount of debt recovered, especially compared to the option of changing the minimum withholding rate to 10 percent of monthly benefits. For delinquent debt, SSA stated charging interest on debts would require substantial changes to multiple systems that affect its overpayment businesses processes, and would require extensive training to its employees. We continue to believe there is merit in further consideration of these measures. While SSA reported it has studied the potential changes needed to charge interest on debt, without further consideration of, for example, the costs and benefits of charging interest or adjusting withholding amounts according to cost of living adjustments, SSA cannot know the extent to which these options would improve debt recovery efforts or help protect the value of debts against the effects of inflation, which can be substantial given that withholding plans can take decades to complete.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should pursue additional debt collection tools for collecting delinquent penalties. This includes taking steps to implement tools within its existing authority and exploring the use of those not within its authority, and seeking legislative authority if necessary.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In June 2016, SSA reported that: it had drafted regulations to use existing external debt collection tools for penalties, was developing a legislative proposal to allow the use of additional debt collection tools such as Federal salary offset and credit bureau reporting, and had started planning for a multi-activity, multi-year administrative sanctions project. In February 2017, SSA reported that, as part of its administrative sanctions project, the agency revised policy guidance on factors significant to OCIG's civil monetary penalty determinations. We will track SSA's progress in applying new tools to collecting penalties.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should take steps to collect complete, accurate, and timely data on, and thereby improve its ability to track civil monetary penalties and their disposition.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of February 2017, SSA reported that it is developing a workload tracking tool for penalties to provide accurate management information on cases. SSA expects to implement this tool by September 2017, and have the first full year of management information available in fiscal year 2018. We will close this recommendation once SSA implements and begins using this tool.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should take steps to collect complete, accurate, and timely data on, and thereby improve its ability to track administrative sanctions and their disposition.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of February 2017, SSA reported that it has been developing a new workload tracking tool for administrative sanctions. The first phase of this tool was implemented in December 2016 and allows SSA to track administrative sanction cases throughout the development process. The second phase, expected to be implemented by September 2017, will provide SSA with management information on sanctions cases. We will continue to monitor SSA's process in developing this tool. We will close this recommendation once the tool is implemented.
    Director: Charles A. Jeszeck
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help workers make appropriate adjustments to the replacement rates used in calculating their specific retirement income needs, the Secretary of Labor should modify its retirement planning tools to allow for some user flexibility in adjusting the replacement rate used in calculating retirement income needs.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: Department of Labor (DOL) officials told us that the agency has updated the instructions to add more information on common situations that would impact a worker's replacement rate. DOL officials also said the department is in the process of developing expanded options for the target saving rate worksheet/calculator. They said this would include identifying the data points needed from the user and adjustments to the user interface (to keep it user friendly) as well as the underlying calculations needed to provide alternative replacement rates within a generally acceptable range. Allowing workers to adjust the replacement rates used when calculating their retirement income needs would help workers better estimate what their individual planning needs may be. We will consider closing this recommendation when this effort has been completed.
    Director: Daniel Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    7 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To improve transparency in reporting processing errors, SSA should provide additional information on the margins of error or confidence intervals, and clearly identify any limitations in its findings on overpayment information provided to Congress and the public.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and reported in January 2016 that it would include a discussion about the limitations of error deficiencies data in future reports. To help close this recommendation, SSA will need to report any limitations, such as small sample sizes, that would affect the reliability of its estimates of DI improper payments due to specific types and causes of errors. Although SSA provided recommendation updates on this report in April 2017, it did not comment on this particular recommendation.
    Recommendation: To minimize the potential effect of vulnerabilities in the work reporting process, SSA should take steps to help ensure that work information is entered directly into eWork, the system of record for work information, and issue required receipts. Such steps could include: (a) Improving and issuing guidance and training to field and 800- number staff to help ensure they log information into eWork and issue required receipts. (b) Establishing policies to monitor alerts to help ensure that work information for concurrent beneficiaries is reflected in SSI and DI systems, and take steps to monitor and make enhancements to systems or guidance, as needed.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In April 2017, SSA reported that it updated training to Field and Processing Center staff and issued an administrative message to staff to remind them about issues related to overpayments and waivers. SSA also reported that, as part of its implementation of Section 826 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (P.L.114-74), it is creating a business process and building an internet work reporting system that will allow both SSDI beneficiaries and SSI recipients to report work and earnings electronically. According to SSA, this system will determine the individual's entitlement and automatically forward the work report to the appropriate staff for processing CDR decisions. To close this recommendation, SSA will need to provide documentation that shows the agency provided training and reminders to staff, and that the agency implemented a mechanism that ensures work information for concurrent beneficiaries is reflected in both SSI and DI systems.
    Recommendation: To further ensure the effective screening of work reports, SSA should monitor its process for handling work reports to determine whether staff are taking action on work reports in accordance with proper procedures, and provide feedback to staff as needed.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In its April 2017 update, SSA continued to disagree with this recommendation. SSA stated that the outcome of a work continuing disability review (CDR) is not dependent on the accuracy of the work report. However, as we noted in our report, inaccurate work reports may result in overpayments or work receipts (which are required by law) to not be issued. Further, pending work reports may be closed inappropriately without resulting in a work CDR. To help close this recommendation, SSA will need to show how it plans to monitor its process for handling work reports to determine compliance with agency procedures, and how feedback, if any, will be provided to staff.
    Recommendation: To enhance the ease and integrity of the work reporting process, SSA should study the costs and benefits of automated reporting options, including options similar to those currently available for SSI recipients, but that do not go as far as automating the continuing disability review process.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In April 2017, SSA reported that the agency has made progress on two fronts, which could enhance the ease and integrity of its work reporting process, both pursuant to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA). In response to Section 826 of BBA, which requires SSA to permit Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries to report their earnings via electronic means similar to what is available for SSI recipients, SSA reported that it has drafted a business process to build an Internet and wage reporting system for SSDI beneficiaries. SSA also noted that this business process contains plans for an Internet work reporting system that will allow both SSDI and SSI recipients to report work and earnings electronically and will automatically forward the work report to either SSI or eWork (for DI beneficiaries), and will automatically generate a receipt to the beneficiary. SSA has also completed a business process for Section 824 of the BBA, which allows SSA to contract with third party payroll providers to receive earnings in a monthly file. SSA reported that these data will allow SSI to automate benefit adjustments based on the monthly earnings report, and for DI, the information will be incorporated into the agency's Work Smart process--a new technique that combines several business processes into one unified approach to identify cases in need of a work continuing disability review. To help close this recommendation, SSA will need to provide documentation of its proposed business process for building Internet and telephone wage reporting systems for DI beneficiaries.
    Recommendation: To enhance beneficiary understanding of work reporting requirements, SSA should: (a) Clarify work reporting requirements provided to beneficiaries. (b) Explore options for increasing the frequency of reporting reminders to DI beneficiaries, similar to those currently available to SSI recipients.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and noted in January 2016 that it plans to assess its method of communication and explore options to strengthen its message to Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries regarding the importance of consistent wage reporting. The agency also plans to consider whether direct phone outreach, currently being piloted to improve wage reporting for SSI recipients, would be appropriate for the DI program. In its April 2017 update, SSA indicated progress toward: updating policies and procedures related to "treatment of earnings derived from services," implementing a commercial payroll data exchange pursuant to section 824 of the BBA, and implementing electronic reporting of earnings pursuant to section 826 of the BBA. While the agency's actions to implement BBA requirements may improve program administration, SSA did not explain how these actions or its efforts to update to policies and procedures related to "treatment of earnings derived from services" would clarify work reporting requirements for or increase the frequency of reporting reminders to DI beneficiaries. SSA also did not provide an update on its plans to assess communication and explore options, as it reported in January 2016. To help close this recommendation, SSA will need to show how these or other actions taken clarify work reporting requirements for and increase reporting reminders for DI beneficiaries.
    Recommendation: improve compliance with waiver policies, SSA should develop a timetable for implementing updates to its Debt Management System to: (a) Align system controls with SSA policy, so that waivers over $1,000 cannot be administratively waived. (b) Ensure that evidence supporting waiver decisions is sufficiently maintained to allow for subsequent monitoring and oversight.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: According to SSA, in February 2016, the agency implemented an edit to the Debt Management System remarks that amended a deficiency in the system that prevented system remarks from being deleted after a case is closed. The edit locks Debt Management System remarks to prevent technicians from overwriting existing remarks in closed cases. With respect to ensuring that overpayments over $1,000 cannot be administratively waived, SSA reported in November 2016 that it will provide a timeline for and take steps to update the Debt Management System when the agency obtains resources to fund the update. SSA reported in April 2017 that its ability to update system controls to align with SSA policy was dependent on resources. To help close this recommendation, SSA will need to show its plans and time frames for updating system controls to align them with SSA policy.
    Recommendation: To improve compliance with waiver policies, SSA should take steps to regularly assess the accuracy of DI waiver decisions, particularly for administrative waivers and for some waivers under $2,000. This could include periodically reviewing approved and denied DI waivers through its continuous quality initiative.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In August 2016, the agency reported that it had taken several actions, including producing a comprehensive training series on overpayment and waiver policy and procedures, building a policy cluster to serve as a "one-stop resource shop" of policy references and tools for technicians, and clarifying agency policies including the Administrative Tolerance Decision Tree to assist technicians with making appropriate low-dollar overpayment waiver decisions. The agency also reported that its Continuous Quality work group continues to review the accuracy of waivers under Title II of the Social Security Act. Based on these efforts, in November 2016, SSA reported that it has closed this recommendation. However, as of April 2017, SSA did not specifically report that its review of Title II waivers will target DI waivers, including administrative waivers and waivers less than $2,000, or that such review will be an ongoing effort. To close this recommendation, SSA will need to show its plans for periodically assessing the accuracy of DI waiver decisions--particularly for administrative waivers and waivers under $2,000--through its continuous quality initiative or other means.
    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: Charles Jeszeck
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    5 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure that federal regulators have better information about lump sum windows and to better ensure that participants have ready access to key information they need to make a decision when presented with a lump sum offer, the Department of Labor should require plan sponsors to notify DOL at the time they implement a lump sum window offer, including the number and category of participants being extended the offer (e.g., separated vested; retiree) as well as examples of the materials provided to them.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Labor (DOL) agreed that this type of information may be helpful in determining the extent to which lump sum window offers are made, as well as the types of disclosures the participants receive. However, DOL reported that it has not identified authority under ERISA for it to impose such a requirement on plan sponsors either before or shortly after the plan offers the lump sum window. The agency states that ERISA expressly provides specific reporting and disclosure requirements. These include various filings, such as annual financial reports, reports upon plan termination, and reports upon making certain transfers of pension plan assets to health benefit accounts. The agency believes ERISA does not require plans to notify them regarding the benefit distribution options they offer or changes in those options, and does not read the broad rulemaking authority in ERISA in Section 505 (general regulations) and Section 110 (pension reporting and disclosure) as authorizing EBSA to establish the notice filing requirement GAO recommended. The agency also commented that ERISA expressly requires that most pension plans file a Form 5500 annual report with the statute specifying the required contents of this annual report in some detail and requiring ?such other financial and actuarial information as the Secretary may find necessary or appropriate.? Although the agency noted it could, by regulation, require reporting on lump sum window offers on the Form 5500, there would be a substantial time lag because ERISA by statute establishes the reporting cycle for the Form 5500 -- the report is not due until 210 days (7 months) after the plan year closes (e.g., for calendar year plans, July 31st of the following year). The agency recognizes that this might not be responsive to the recommendation, which appears to envision a notification system that is relatively contemporaneous with the lump sum window being offered to participants and beneficiaries.
    Recommendation: To ensure that federal regulators have better information about lump sum windows and to better ensure that participants have ready access to key information they need to make a decision when presented with a lump sum offer, the Department of Labor should coordinate with the Internal Revenue Service and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to clarify the guidance regarding the information sponsors should provide to participants when extending lump sum window offers and place the guidance on the agency's website. Guidance should include clear and understandable presentations of information, such as the relative value of the lump sum, the role and level of protections provided by PBGC, and the positive and negative ramifications of accepting the lump sum. Such guidance could also include promising practices for information materials from plan sponsors which are particularly effective in facilitating informed participant decision-making.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Labor agreed with this recommendation, noting it is important to coordinate with the Treasury Department/IRS and PBGC to clarify the guidance regarding the information sponsors and other plan fiduciaries should provide to participants and beneficiaries when extending lump sum window offers. In 2016, the agency noted that the manner of publishing that guidance would be part of that coordination process. They may consider some formal public request for input (such as publishing a Request for Information in the Federal Register) and focus group or other field testing work. In addition, the agency noted that the 2015 ERISA Advisory Council announced that one of its projects this year concerns how to give participants effective notices and disclosures concerning lump sum window offers, including possible development of model participant notices. The 2015 Council developed recommendations and model notices on lump sum window offers in "pension risk transfer transactions," and suggested that DOL make the Model Notices available on its web site to plan sponsors and participant advocates and that plan sponsors use the Model Notices when engaging in risk transfer transactions. Similar to other model communications developed by the 2015 Council, the agency believes the model notice could be further enhanced if subjected to broader public input from, for example, plan sponsors, participant advocates, communications experts, and academics. Subject to the limits on its authority in this area and resource constraints. They are considering efforts to obtain public input on the Council's recommendations and model notice. They also intend to contact the Treasury Department/IRS and PBGC to discuss the Council's recommendations.
    Recommendation: To provide participants with useful information and to provide for lump sums that are based on up-to-date assumptions, Treasury should review its regulations governing the information contained in relative value statements to ensure these statements provide a meaningful comparison of all benefit options, especially in instances where the loss of certain additional plan benefits may not be disclosed.

    Agency: Department of the Treasury
    Status: Open

    Comments: Treasury generally agreed with this recommendation but did not provide specific comments on plans to address it.
    Recommendation: To provide participants with useful information and to provide for lump sums that are based on up-to-date assumptions, Treasury should review the applicability and appropriateness of allowing sponsors to select a "lookback" interest rate for use in calculating lump sums associated with a lump sum window that can serve to advantage the interests of the sponsor.

    Agency: Department of the Treasury
    Status: Open

    Comments: Treasury generally agreed with this recommendation but did not provide specific comments on plans to address it.
    Recommendation: To provide participants with useful information and to provide for lump sums that are based on up-to-date assumptions, Treasury should establish a process and a timeline for periodically updating the mortality tables used to determine minimum required lump sums-- including a means for monitoring when experts' views may indicate that mortality tables may have become outdated, and for taking expedited action if warranted.

    Agency: Department of the Treasury
    Status: Open

    Comments: Treasury generally agreed with this recommendation but did not provide specific comments on plans to address it.
    Director: Charlie Jeszeck
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    5 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To better protect the retirement savings of individuals who change jobs, while retaining policies that provide 401(k) plans relief from maintaining small, inactive accounts, Congress should consider amending current law to permit the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of the Treasury to identify and designate alternative default destinations for forced transfers greater than $1,000, should they deem them more advantageous for participants.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: There has been no congressional action as of 2017.
    Recommendation: To better protect the retirement savings of individuals who change jobs, while retaining policies that provide 401(k) plans relief from maintaining small, inactive accounts, Congress should consider amending current law to repeal the provision that allows plans to disregard amounts attributable to rollovers when determining if a participant's plan balance is small enough to forcibly transfer it.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: There has been no congressional action as of 2017.
    Recommendation: To ensure that individuals have access to consolidated online information about their multiple 401(k) plan accounts, the Secretary of Labor should convene a taskforce to consider establishing a national pension registry. The taskforce could include industry professionals, plan sponsor representatives, consumer representatives, and relevant federal government stakeholders, such as representatives from Social Security Administration, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and Internal Revenue Service, who could identify areas to be addressed through the regulatory process, as well as those that may require legislative action.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In April 2017, The Department of Labor (DOL) reported that it has not allocated any resources to this recommendation and, as previously stated, that it continues to believe that the Department should not undertake to convene a taskforce at this time, in light of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation's (PBGC) initiative, the Department's limited authority, and resource constraints. In October 2016, DOL stated that it does not have regulatory authority to establish a pension registry and could not provide sufficient funding to operate a registry. GAO's recommendation is to convene a taskforce to look at what would be needed to create such a registry. Indeed, DOL's stated constraints are exactly the constructive input that would need to be first addressed by such a taskforce for a registry to be created. The agency further noted that the PBGC is in the process of looking at expanding its own registry of accounts left in closed defined benefit plans to include accounts in 401(k) plans. However, PBGC is only looking at expanding its program, as instructed by the Pension Protection Act, to include accounts left in terminated 401(k) plans. However, in June 2016, Congress proposed that a new national, online, lost and found for Americans' retirement accounts be created, in cooperation with the Commissioner of Social Security and the Secretary of the Treasury, using data that employers are already required to report. Until Congress' proposal becomes law, we continue to recommend that DOL facilitate a taskforce to discuss legal and other logistical questions that would need to be worked out to create a pension registry.
    Recommendation: To ensure that 401(k) plan participants have timely and adequate information to keep track of all their workplace retirement accounts, the Social Security Administration's Acting Commissioner should make information on potential vested plan benefits more accessible to individuals before retirement. For example, the agency could consolidate information on potential vested benefits, currently sent in the Potential Private Retirement Benefit Information notice, with the information provided in the Social Security earnings and benefits statement.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA disagreed with this recommendation, but did seek legal guidance to determine if it is permissible to include a general statement encouraging potential beneficiaries to pursue any external pension benefits in its benefit Statement. SSA's Office of the General Counsel determined that it would be permissible as long as it includes information required by law and the information is accurate. However, SSA continues to believe that adding such information would place SSA in a position to respond to issues or questions about ERISA and private pension plans, which SSA considers to be outside its mission and about which the agency has no firsthand legal or operational knowledge. Also, SSA believes that the current benefit Statement adequately covers the fact that people need other savings, pensions, and investments. Also, SSA sends notices to people who it believes quality for other pensions. In FY17, SSA reported no change in status to this recommendation. We continue to agree with SSA's view about providing information or advice about private pension plans generally. However, SSA's Notice of Potential Private Retirement Benefit Information already directs recipients to contact DOL with any questions, and we would expect that any changes made to make information on potential vested plan benefits more accessible to individuals before retirement - such as including the information in Social Security earnings and benefit statements - would continue to direct recipients to contact DOL with questions about ERISA policy. Furthermore, we continue to believe that individuals should receive information on any potential vested plan benefits prior to retirement.
    Recommendation: To prevent forced-transfer IRA balances from decreasing due to the low returns of the investment options currently permitted under the Department of Labor's safe harbor regulation, the Secretary of Labor should expand the investment alternatives available. For example, the forced-transfer IRA safe harbor regulations could be revised to include investment options currently under the qualified default investment alternatives regulation applicable to automatic enrollment, and permit forced-transfer IRA providers to change the investments for IRAs already established.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of July 2017, DOL declines to adopt this recommendation. DOL noted if GAO?s comments are interpreted to mean that the recommended safe harbor revisions would free plan fiduciaries from an obligation to make a prudent selection among such a broader range of investment alternatives, then it raises significant policy issues regarding the administration of ERISA?s fiduciary duty provisions. DOL also noted that if, on the other hand, GAO's recommendation would have the safe harbor require the responsible plan fiduciary be responsible for prudently deciding whether to use a higher risk investment alternative, employers and other plan sponsors may oppose such a change. Our recommendation does not comment on or suggest changes to the obligations of plan fiduciaries as part of a change to the safe harbor. Further, GAO has made prior recommendations that DOL clarify the definition of fiduciary for purposes of investment, including a requirement that plan service providers, when assisting participants with distribution options, disclose any financial interests they may have in the outcome of those decisions in a clear, consistent, and prominent manner; the conditions under which they are subject to any regulatory standards (such as ERISA fiduciary standards, SEC standards, or others); and what those standards mean for the participant. Our recommendation is to "expand the investment options available" and we have noted that qualified default investment alternatives could be one option. Previously, DOL has stated that the limited investments under the safe harbor are appropriate because Congress' intent for the safe harbor was to preserve principal transferred out of plans. DOL noted that given the small balances and the inability of absent participants to monitor investments, the current conservative investment options are a more appropriate way to preserve principal. However, the current forced-transfer IRA investment options like money market funds can protect principal from investment risk, but not from the risk that fees (no matter how reasonable) and inflation can result in decreased account balances due to returns on these small balance accounts not keeping pace with fees. The reality has been that many forced-transfer IRAs have experienced very large and even complete declines in principal. Our recommendation did not aim to eliminate any investment alternatives covered by the safe harbor, rather it aims to expand the alternatives available so that plans and providers that want to operate under the safe harbor have the opportunity to choose the most suitable investment. We continue to encourage DOL to expand the safe harbor to include investment alternatives more likely to preserve principal and even increase it over time.
    Director: Daniel Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    3 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To improve the ability of the agency to detect and prevent potential physician-assisted fraud, and to address potential disincentives for staff to detect and prevent physician-assisted fraud, SSA should review the standards used to assess DDS performance; and develop and distribute promising practices to incentivize staff to better balance the goal of processing claims promptly with the equally important goal of identifying and reporting evidence of potential fraud.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA partially agreed with this recommendation, citing that their employees take their stewardship responsibilities seriously and that field office and disability determination services (DDS) employees are the agency's first and best line of defense against fraud. In 2016, the agency reported that it was working with experts in its OIG and Office of Anti-Fraud Programs to develop and disseminate promising practices on identifying and reporting fraud. We will close this recommendation once SSA takes steps to review its standards for assessing DDS performance and disseminates the best practices it is developing.
    Recommendation: To improve the ability of the agency to detect and prevent potential physician-assisted fraud, and to address the potential risks associated with medical evidence submitted by sanctioned physicians, SSA should evaluate the threat posed by this information and, if warranted, consider changes to its policies and procedures.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of 2016, SSA reported that it was pursuing several options to address the potential risks of medical evidence submitted by sanctioned physicians. This included determining how it could use licensure information from the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities. SSA stated that it believes the best opportunity to further evaluate the possible review of the license statuses of medical evidence providers is in conjunction with the implementation of the National Vendor File, part of the national Disability Case Processing System, which is under development. In addition, SSA reported it had drafted two Social Security Rulings to define fraud and to provide processes for disregarding evidence and making redeterminations in disability claims when there is reason to believe that fraudulent evidence was provided. We will close this recommendation once SSA articulates a strategy for using license status information in the vendor file and it finalizes its rulings.
    Recommendation: To improve the ability of the agency to detect and prevent potential physician-assisted fraud, and to help ensure new initiatives that use analytics to identify potential fraud schemes are successful, SSA should develop an implementation plan that identifies both short- and long-term actions, including: (1) timeframes for implementation; (2) resources and staffing needs; (3) data requirements, e.g., the collection of unique medical provider information; (4) how technology improvement will be integrated into existing technology improvements such as the Disability Case Processing System and National Vendor File; and (5) how different initiatives will interact and support each other.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: Since fiscal year 2015, SSA has taken several steps that will help the agency to combat fraud, waste, and abuse. SSA established the Office of Anti-Fraud Programs to provide centralized oversight and accountability for the agency's initiatives, which, in consultation with the Office of the Inspector General and other SSA components, will lead the development of SSA's anti-fraud initiatives and activities. This includes efforts to mitigate fraud through data analytics that utilize SSA's existing data systems. SSA developed a strategic plan for fiscal years 2016-2018 to guide its anti-fraud efforts that includes the use of data analytics. However, this plan does not specifically address actions to combat potential physician-assisted fraud. As of April 2017, SSA stated that it continued to develop a fraud management strategy that is consistent with the leading practices identified in GAO's report. Once the strategy is complete, SSA plans to conduct a fraud risk assessment on its major lines of business, beginning with the disability program in fiscal year 2017. We will continue to monitor SSA's progress to identify and prevent fraud schemes that include physicians.
    Director: James R. McTigue, Jr.
    Phone: (202) 512-9110

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To promote retirement savings without creating permanent tax-favored accounts for a small segment of the population, Congress should consider revisiting the use of IRAs to accumulate large balances and consider ways to improve the equity of the existing tax expenditure on IRAs. Options could include limits on (1) the types of assets permitted in IRAs, (2) the minimum valuation for an asset purchased by an IRA, or (3) the amount of assets that can be accumulated in IRAs and employersponsored plans that get preferential tax treatment.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: In its October 2014 report, GAO found that individuals with limited, occupationally related opportunities could engage in sophisticated investment strategies and accumulate considerable tax-preferred wealth in IRAs and subsequently suggested to Congress legislative options. As of March 2017, legislation had not been introduced on any aspect of this suggestion, although the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on IRA policy in September 2014 for which GAO provided a statement for the record.
    Recommendation: To improve IRS's ability to detect and pursue noncompliance associated with undervalued assets sheltered in IRAs and prohibited transactions, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue should conduct research using the new Form 5498 data to identify IRAs holding nonpublic asset types, such as profits interests in private equity firms and hedge funds, and use that information for an IRSwide strategy to target enforcement efforts.

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

    Comments: As of March 2017, IRS had taken some action to develop a research plan using the new information on types of nonpublic IRA assets reported on Form 5498. Previously, IRS searched terms in Form 5498 filings to identify IRAs holding assets with the greatest risk of noncompliance. In January 2016, IRS started a research project to examine a sample of tax returns based on certain nonpublic IRA asset types. IRS plans to use the research results due in June 2018 to develop an IRS-wide strategy to target enforcement efforts to those IRAs where the beneficiary of the IRA has caused his or her IRA to engage in a prohibited transaction. Once IRS completes electronically compiling the new Form 5498 information for tax year 2016 that is filed in 2017, IRS researchers plan to use the asset type data to streamline the process of identifying those IRAs. As of March 2017, IRS examination officials did not have a date on when the new IRA asset type data will be available for further analysis.
    Recommendation: To improve IRS's ability to detect and pursue noncompliance associated with undervalued assets sheltered in IRAs and prohibited transactions, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue should work in consultation with the Department of the Treasury on a legislative proposal to expand the statute of limitations on IRA noncompliance to help IRS pursue valuation-related misreporting and prohibited transactions that may have originated outside the current statute's 3-year window.

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

    Comments: IRS agreed with GAO's October 2014 recommendation on IRAs with large balances and said it had discussed the recommendation with Treasury's Office of Tax Policy and Benefits Tax Counsel. Consequently, IRS said Treasury is aware of IRS's willingness to support legislative efforts in this area. However, Treasury and IRS have not drafted a legislative proposal as of March 2017.
    Recommendation: To help taxpayers better understand compliance risks associated with certain IRA choices and improve compliance, the Commissioner of Revenue should, building on research data on IRAs holding nonpublic assets, identify options to provide outreach targeting taxpayers with nonpublic IRA assets and their custodians, such as reminder notices that engaging in prohibited transactions can result in loss of the IRA's tax-favored status.

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

    Comments: IRS has taken some action to provide general outreach but has not yet compiled data to target outreach to taxpayers with nonmarketable IRA assets at greater risk of noncompliance, as GAO recommended in October 2014. In June 2016, IRS published information on IRS.gov outlining the new information to be reported for nonmarketable IRA assets and included a general caution that IRAs with nonmarketable investments or assets under direct taxpayer control may be subject to a heightened risk of committing prohibited transactions. This caution, similar to those that IRS added to its publications about IRA contributions and distributions, is a step toward helping taxpayers better understand which investments pose greater risks. IRS said results from an ongoing compliance research project may help in targeting outreach to taxpayers holding certain IRA assets at greater risk of noncompliance. IRS said it could refine its outreach to those taxpayers with nonpublic IRA assets using the new asset type data once compiled electronically. As of March 2017, IRS was compiling the IRA assets data for tax year 2016 that is filed in 2017, but IRS had not provided a date on when the new IRA asset type data will be available for further analysis.
    Director: Charles Jeszeck
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    6 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To better protect plan sponsors and participants who use managed account services, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) to review provider practices related to additional managed account services offered to participants in or near retirement, with the aim of determining whether conflicts of interest exist and, if it determines it is necessary, taking the appropriate action to remedy the issue.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2014, DOL agreed to include these practices in its current review of investment advice conflicts of interest, noting that such conflicts continue to be a concern. In April 2015, a proposed regulation was published in the Federal Register on the definition of a "fiduciary" of an employee benefit plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) as a result of giving investment advice to a plan or its participants or beneficiaries. The proposal would widen the array of advice relationships under which someone would be considered a fiduciary under ERISA more broadly than existing regulations. This would increase consumer protection for plan sponsors, fiduciaries, participants, beneficiaries and IRA owners. An initial comment period closed on July 21, 2015. DOL held a public hearing on August 10-13, 2015, and reopened the comment period until September 24. GAO will monitor the progress of this proposed rule.
    Recommendation: To better protect plan sponsors and participants who use managed account services, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for the EBSA to consider the fiduciary status of managed account providers when they offer services on an opt-in basis and, if necessary, make regulatory changes or provide guidance to address any issues.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: DOL concurred with this recommendation and agreed to review existing guidance and consider whether additional guidance is needed in light of the various business models we described. As of May 2017, DOL is continuing these efforts. To implement this recommendation, DOL should complete its efforts to consider managed account service provider practices and fiduciary roles and take any necessary action to address potential issues to ensure that sponsors and participants receive unconflicted managed account services from qualified managers.
    Recommendation: To help sponsors who offer managed account services or who are considering doing so better protect their 401(k) plan participants, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for EBSA to require plan sponsors to request from record keepers more than one managed account provider option, and notify the Department of Labor if record keepers fail to do so.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL agreed to consider this recommendation in connection with its current regulatory project on standards for brokerage windows in participant-directed individual account plans. The project has been moved to the long-term action category of DOL's regulatory agenda. DOL will also consider the extent of its legal authority to effectively require that plans have more than one managed account service provider or to require that record keepers offer more than one managed account provider as part of their service agreements. GAO believes requiring plan sponsors to ask for more than one choice of a provider -- which is slightly different than how DOL has characterized it--may be an effective method of broadening plan sponsors' choices of managed account providers. However, GAO also agrees that DOL should examine the scope of its existing authority in considering how it might implement this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To help sponsors and participants more effectively assess the performance of managed accounts, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for EBSA to amend participant disclosure regulations to require that sponsors furnish standardized performance and benchmarking information to participants. To accomplish this, EBSA could promulgate regulations that would require sponsors who offer managed account services to provide their participants with standardized performance and benchmarking information on managed accounts. For example, sponsors could periodically furnish each managed account participant with the aggregate performance of participants' managed account portfolios and returns for broad-based securities market indexes and applicable customized benchmarks, based on those benchmarks provided for the plan's designated investment alternatives.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL agreed to consider this recommendation in connection with (1) its regulatory project on standards for brokerage windows in participant directed individual account plans and (2) open proposed rulemaking project involving the qualified default investment alternative and participant-level fee disclosure regulations. These projects have been moved to the long-term action category of DOL's regulatory agenda.
    Recommendation: To help sponsors and participants more effectively assess the performance of managed accounts, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for EBSA to amend service provider disclosure regulations to require that providers furnish standardized performance and benchmarking information to sponsors. To accomplish this, EBSA could promulgate regulations that would require service providers to disclose to sponsors standardized performance and benchmarking information on managed accounts. For example, providers could, prior to selection and periodically thereafter, as applicable, furnish sponsors with aggregated returns for generalized conservative, moderate, and aggressive portfolios, actual managed account portfolio returns for each of the sponsor's participants, and returns for broad-based securities market indexes and applicable customized benchmarks, based on those benchmarks provided for the plan's designated investment alternatives.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL agreed to consider this recommendation in connection with (1) its regulatory project on standards for brokerage windows in participant directed individual account plans and (2) open proposed rulemaking project involving the qualified default investment alternative and participant-level fee disclosure regulations. These projects have been moved to the long-term action category of DOL's regulatory agenda.
    Recommendation: To help sponsors who offer managed account services or who are considering doing so better protect their 401(k) plan participants, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for EBSA to provide guidance to plan sponsors for selecting and overseeing managed account providers that addresses: (1) the importance of considering multiple providers when choosing a managed account provider, (2) factors to consider when offering managed accounts as a Qualified Default Investment Alternative or on an opt-in basis, and (3) approaches for evaluating the services of managed account providers.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL agreed to consider this recommendation in connection with its current regulatory project on standards for brokerage windows in participant-directed individual account plans. DOL intends for this project to address whether potential regulatory or other guidance for such arrangements may be appropriate. The project has been moved to the long-term action category of DOL's regulatory agenda.
    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: Bertoni, Daniel
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: In order to enhance the accuracy of and ensure appropriate agency access to SSA's death data, and to clarify how SSA applies the eligibility requirements of the Social Security Act and enhance agencies' awareness of how to obtain access, the Social Security Administration's Acting Commissioner should direct the Deputy Commissioner of Operations to develop and publicize guidance it will use to determine whether agencies are eligible to receive SSA's full death file.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) disagreed with this recommendation, stating that each request to obtain the full death file is unique, and that officials must review them on a case-by-case basis to ensure compliance with various legal requirements. It also expressed concern that developing this guidance as we recommended would require agency expenditures unrelated to its mission in an already fiscally constrained environment. SSA noted that any federal agency that would like to explore accessing the full death master file (which includes state death records) should submit a request to SSA. SSA will review the file and, if satisfactory, enter into an Information Exchange Agreement covering terms, conditions and reimbursement for the exchange. As of April 2017, SSA reports that it is continuing its efforts and there is no change in status. GAO appreciates that agencies may base their request for the full death file on different intended uses, and supports SSA's efforts to ensure compliance with all applicable legal requirements. However, developing such guidance could help to ensure consistency in SSA's future decision making by the new Office of Data Exchange, and enhance agencies' ability to obtain the data in a timely and efficient manner.
    Recommendation: In order to enhance the accuracy of and ensure appropriate agency access to SSA's death data, and to increase transparency among recipient agencies, the Social Security Administration's Acting Commissioner should direct the Deputy Commissioner of Operations to share a more detailed explanation of how it determines reimbursement amounts for providing agencies with death information.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) reported that it has implemented improvements in its estimating procedures for future reimbursable agreements to ensure consistent estimates for all customers. It reviews all reimbursable requests on a case-by-case basis to determine full costs (including direct and indirect expenses) to provide goods, resources, or services. However, the agency stated that it is not a typical government business practice to share these detailed costs for reimbursable agreements. As of April 2017, SSA reports that it is continuing its efforts and there is no change in status. We are encouraged that SSA has made efforts to standardize the estimates it shares with its federal partners. While we recognize that there may be limitations on the type of cost details SSA can provide to recipient agencies, we continue to believe that more transparency in conveying the factors that lead to the estimated and final reimbursement amounts recipient agencies are charged could help them make more informed decisions.
    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.
    Director: Jeszeck, Charles A
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: As DOL and Treasury continue their efforts to determine the actions needed to enhance the retirement security of 401(k) plan participants, DOL and Treasury should consider the approaches taken by other countries to formalize access to multiple spend-down options for U.S. plan participants that address varying retirement risks and needs. To the extent possible, lessons from other countries should be used to help DOL and Treasury ensure plan sponsors have information about their flexibilities and the ability to facilitate access to a mix of appropriate options for 401(k) plan participants.

    Agency: Department of the Treasury
    Status: Open

    Comments: Treasury did not provide comments on this recommendation and has not provided any updates.
    Recommendation: As DOL considers changes to participant benefit statements and other disclosures, the Secretary of DOL should consider strategies other countries have employed to help participants make sound decisions, such as providing timely information at or before retirement about available spend-down options and projections of future retirement income.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL agreed that participants should have timely information at or before retirement about available spend-down options and projections of future retirement income. DOL had previously published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking soliciting public input on ways to show an projections of lifetime income in retirement plan benefit statements. DOL also consulted with the ERISA Advisory Council on ways it could assist DOL in this area. The Council developed and submitted to DOL tips, principals, and samples for plan sponsors to consider when communicating with participants. However, DOL has not taken additional steps in this area and continues to cite its other regulatory and guidance priorities as taking precedence.
    Recommendation: As DOL continues to review regulatory barriers to lifetime income options for 401(k) plan participants it should consider other countries' approaches to plans offering annuities, such as their reliance on existing solvency requirements and insurance industry standards to provide assurances rather than place responsibility on plan sponsors to make an assessment of an annuity provider's financial stability. As DOL considers the approaches of other countries and continues to work with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which facilitates interactions between insurance companies and state insurance regulators, DOL may wish to consult with the Federal Insurance Office, which coordinates federal efforts on prudential aspects of international insurance matters.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL worked with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) in 2013 and 2014 to consider possible options for easing plan sponsor concerns about the requirement to assess the financial solvency of annuity providers. DOL reported they will continue to work with NAIC, as well as the National Organization of Life & Health Insurance Guaranty Associations and Treasury's Federal Insurance Office as they consider potential regulatory approaches in this area. DOL also worked with the Federal Insurance Office in developing guidance on the selection and monitoring of annuity providers under the current annuity selection safe harbor regulation. However, DOL has not taken further actions and continues to cite its other regulatory and guidance priorities as taking precedence. We commend DOL's efforts on a more workable safe harbor, but continue to encourage DOL to review alternative approaches taken by other countries, such as their reliance on existing solvency requirements and insurance standards, which can ease the burden on plan sponsors.
    Director: Jeszeck, Charles A
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of the Treasury should consider requiring pension plan sponsors to provide participants with an opportunity to opt out of all forms of electronic delivery, including (but not limited to) disclosures sent by default electronic delivery and disclosures posted on a secure continuous access website.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2013, DOL stated that it was appropriate to consider the merits of broader rights to opt out of electronic delivery and would want to consult with the Treasury Department/IRS on the agencies' different opt-out standards. In FY14, the agency reiterated that dfferent opt-out standards may be appropriate for general plan information versus individual account or other personal information and would consult with Treasury/IRS. They will consider this matter as part of any future rulemaking that modifies or amends the current regulatory safe harbor. In FY15, Labor stated that different opt-out standards may be appropriate for general plan information versus individual account or other personal information, but that was an issue for Labor to consider in consultation with the Treasury Department/IRS should Labor pursue future rulemaking that modifies or amends the current regulatory safe harbor. In July 2016, DOL confirmed that the agency continues to plan to take the above action. As of July 2017, DOL indicated that no decisions had been made concerning future rulemaking in this area.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of the Treasury should consider requiring pension plan sponsors to send a periodic paper notice to participants reminding them of their right to change their preferred delivery method at any time and the steps they must take to make these changes.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: In FY13, DOL stated that it was appropriate to obtain further input on requiring some periodic paper reminder notice. In FY14, the agency reported that the sort of periodic notice described by GAO could be a safeguard against malfunctions in the electronic communication system and act as a reminder that important plan information is being provided through electronic media. DOL will consider and obtain further input on requiring a periodic paper reminder of as part of any future rulemaking that modifies or amends the current regulatory safe harbor. In FY15, Labor stated that the agency intends to consider and obtain further input on requiring a periodic paper reminder should we pursue future rulemaking that modifies or amends the current regulatory safe harbor. In July 2016, DOL confirmed that the agency continues to plan to take the above action. As of July 2017, DOL indicated that no decisions had been made concerning future rulemaking in this area.
    Director: Bertoni, Daniel
    Phone: (202)512-5988

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The incoming Commissioner of Social Security should determine if realigning the agency's headquarters, regional, or field office structure could yield increases in the agency's effectiveness and efficiency by launching an exploratory effort to assess the utility and feasibility of such a realignment or consolidation. These efforts could include holding discussions with other federal agencies, such as the Census Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service, to learn about their experiences undergoing similar transformations and studying the likely costs and benefits of consolidation, as well as other potential impacts.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA has determined that it will realign its office structure to support expanded online service delivery, but the agency has not yet taken steps to fully assess the utility and feasibility of such a realignment, such as studying the likely costs, benefits, and other potential impacts. In its March 2014 Agency Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2014-2018, SSA stated its intent to expand online services and encourage customers to conduct business with SSA online and said that the agency will streamline its field office structure, as well as its administrative office structure, to reduce costs and make the best use of its employees' time and skills. SSA also consulted with other federal agencies to learn about their experiences with similar efforts. In its April 2015 Vision 2025 document, SSA stated that the agency will align its physical infrastructure to efficiently meet customer and business needs. However, SSA needs to take additional concrete steps, such as defining specific actions the agency will need to take and resources required to achieve this vision.
    Director: Jeszeck, Charles A
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To enhance understanding and better inform debate on the possible effects of moving to a more risk-based premium structure, during consideration of various redesign options and after a redesign may be authorized, the Director of PBGC should continue to develop PBGC's hypothetical model, analyzing various premium redesign options and their impacts on sponsors, and report the results to Congress. As part of these analyses, PBGC should evaluate the potential effects on sponsors of incorporating additional risk factors, such as company financial health and plan investment mix, and include an assessment to identify any potentially disproportional hardships on smaller companies that may result from the redistribution of higher rates to riskier sponsors.

    Agency: Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
    Status: Open

    Comments: PBGC agreed with this recommendation. The agency is committed to continued development of the databases, models, and analyses of various premium redesign options and their impacts on sponsors, and to report the results of these analyses to Congress. In April 2014, PBGC noted that its efforts are still in process. As of August 2015, PBGC had provided no additional updates on actions taken on this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To help strengthen the PBGC insurance program, Congress should authorize redesign of PBGC's premium structure to more fully reflect the risk posed by plans and sponsors to the agency, such as by providing for the incorporation of additional risk factors.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2012 and December 2013, Congress passed premium increases (P.L. No. 112-141 and P.L. 113-67, respectively) to better reflect the risk posed to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation by certain defined benefit pension plans and plan sponsors. Nevertheless, As of September 2015, Congress had yet to authorize a redesign of PBGC's premium structure.
    Recommendation: In addition, to improve PBGC's ability to collect key information that may be necessary to help the agency estimate its risk exposure to future claims and strengthen implementation of any changes to the premium structure, Congress should provide PBGC with access to additional information needed to assess risk and assist in setting premiums, such as by expanding the criteria requiring plan sponsors to report under section 4010 of ERISA.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of September 2015, Congress has taken no action related to this matter.
    Recommendation: Moreover, to better understand the mechanics of how best to incorporate additional risk factors, improve transparency, and help inform the evaluation of the various redesign options, Congress should establish an independent premiums advisory committee reflecting a range of perspectives--including, for example, representatives from federal agencies, sponsors, actuaries, private insurers, and labor groups--to assist with such activities as developing the mechanics for incorporating additional risk factors and implementing new rates, as well as delineating a variety of alternative methods to address PBGC's deficit.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of September 2015, Congress has taken no action related to this matter.