Private Pensions: Sponsors of 10 Underfunded Plans Paid Executives Approximately $350 Million in Compensation Shortly Before Termination

GAO-10-77 Published: Oct 21, 2009. Publicly Released: Nov 19, 2009.
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When sponsors terminate underfunded plans during bankruptcy, it can deplete resources of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), which protects the pensions of almost 44 million American workers and retirees who participate in over 29,000 defined benefit pension plans. In 2009, PBGC reported an estimated deficit of over $30 billion. GAO was asked to determine what pay and other compensation executives received in the years preceding their company's termination of an underfunded defined benefit pension plan. To identify case study examples GAO analyzed a listing of the 1,246 underfunded plans that were terminated from 1999 to 2008 and selected public companies with large unfunded liabilities, large unfunded liabilities per participant, and a large number of plan participants. GAO reviewed documents provided by companies and executives, and interviewed PBGC and company officials. GAO also reviewed Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings and PBGC documents disclosing plan underfunding at the time of termination and missed contributions. Executive compensation figures may be understated because some company executives could not be located, did not respond to document requests, declined interviews, and did not give GAO access to their tax records.

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