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    Subject Term: "Retirement security"

    5 publications with a total of 26 open recommendations including 2 priority recommendations
    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: 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: 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.