Assessment of How the Department of Labor's Solicitor's Office Handles Pension and Welfare Benefit Cases

HRD-85-6: Published: Nov 6, 1984. Publicly Released: Dec 8, 1984.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Labor's Office of the Solicitor's handling of employee pension and welfare benefit cases involving alleged violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

The Solicitor's Office provides legal analyses of cases of alleged ERISA reporting, disclosure, and fiduciary provisions violations and provides advice on whether to obtain voluntary compliance with the act or to secure compliance through litigation. From 1976 to 1980, the backlog of cases in the Solicitor's Office and the average time for case review increased significantly. However, in 1981, the Solicitor's Office closed 165 cases and returned them with recommendations for disposition. A primary cause for the backlog was the high number of referrals of cases due to the newness and complexity of ERISA and the lack of staff expertise. In addition, the Solicitor's Office failed to promptly return cases selected for litigation, had a limited staff, and lacked written criteria for processing the referred cases. These time delays affected Labor's enforcement action and, in one case, halted proposed litigation. GAO found no evidence that the Solicitor's Office referred any case to another Labor office or federal agency to avoid responsibility. Most of the referrals were made because they involved issues for which the divisions or agencies had primary enforcement responsibility. In order to improve case processing, Labor has increased the Solicitor's Office staff, given field enforcement offices greater authority, defined the roles of the Solicitor's Office and the Program office, and established guidelines on the applicability of the statute of limitations.

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