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Millions of Americans rely on private or public defined benefit pension plans, which promise to pay retirement benefits that are generally based on an employee's salary and years of service. Plan sponsors are increasingly investing in "alternative" assets such as hedge funds and private equity. This has raised concerns, given that these two types of investments have qualified for exemptions from some federal regulations and could present more risk to retirement assets than traditional investments. This testimony discusses (1) the extent to which defined benefit plans have invested in hedge funds and private equity, (2) challenges that such plans face in investing in hedge funds and private equity, (3) steps that plan sponsors can take to address these challenges, and (4) the implications of these challenges for the federal government. To prepare this statement, GAO relied primarily on its published reports on hedge funds and private equity (GAO-08-692 and GAO-08-200), and obtained new data on the extent of plan investments in hedge funds and private equity. GAO has previously recommended that the Secretary of Labor provide guidance designed to help ERISA fiduciaries better assess their ability to invest in hedge funds and private equity. Labor generally agreed with our recommendation, but has yet to take action.

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