Private Pensions: Publicly Available Reports Provide Useful but Limited Information on Plans' Financial Condition

GAO-04-395 Published: Mar 31, 2004. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 2004.
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Information about the financial condition of defined benefit pension plans is provided in two sources: regulatory reports to the government and corporate financial statements. The two sources can often appear to provide contradictory information. For example, when pension asset values declined for most large companies between 2000 and 2002, these companies all continued to report positive returns on pension assets in their financial statement calculations of pension expense. This apparent inconsistency, coupled with disclosures about corporate accounting scandals and news of failing pension plans, has raised questions about the accuracy and transparency of available information about pension plans. GAO was asked to explain and describe (1) key differences between the two publicly available sources of information; (2) the limitations of information about the financial condition of defined benefit plans from these two sources; and (3) recent or proposed changes to pension reporting, including selected approaches to pension reporting used in other countries.

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