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    Subject Term: "Retirement income"

    9 publications with a total of 33 open recommendations including 3 priority recommendations
    Director: Jeszeck, Charles A
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: Congress should consider establishing an independent commission to comprehensively examine the U.S. retirement system and make recommendations to clarify key policy goals for the system and improve how the nation can promote more stable retirement security. We suggest that such a commission include representatives from government agencies, employers, the financial services industry, unions, participant advocates, and researchers, among others, to help inform policymakers on changes needed to improve the current U.S. retirement system.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.
    Director: Charles Jeszeck
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To assist IRA owners in addressing challenges associated with investing their retirement savings in unconventional assets, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue should provide guidance to IRA owners on the potential for IRA transactions involving certain unconventional assets to generate unrelated business taxable income subject to taxation in the current tax year and subsequent years. For example, IRS could consider adding an explicit caution in Publication 590 Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs) and include a link in Publication 590 to Publication 598 Tax on Unrelated Business Income of Exempt Organizations to provide examples demonstrating how certain unconventional assets in IRAs can generate unrelated business income tax for account owners.

    Agency: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service
    Status: Open

    Comments: IRS stated that it would add during the calendar year 2017 scheduled update, language to Publication 590-A, Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRA), cautioning IRA owners about the possibility of unrelated business taxable income if the IRA owner engages in certain transactions or purchases certain assets. GAO will consider closing this recommendation when the agency has completed this effort.
    Recommendation: To assist IRA owners in addressing challenges associated with investing their retirement savings in unconventional assets, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue should provide guidance to IRA owners and custodians on how to determine and document fair market value (FMV) for certain categories of hard-to-value unconventional assets. For example, IRS could consider updating Form 5498 instructions to custodians on how to document FMV for hard-to-value assets (e.g., last-known FMV based on independent appraisal, acquisition price) and provide guidance directed at account owners that provides examples of how to ascertain FMV for different types of unconventional assets.

    Agency: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service
    Status: Open

    Comments: IRS agreed that guidance should be provided to IRA owners and custodians and stated that the guidance could be provided as part of an item currently on the 2016-2017 Priority Guidance Plan. IRS will recommend to Treasury that the regulation project address this issue. We will consider closing this recommendation when the agency provides documentation that this effort has been completed.
    Recommendation: To assist IRA owners in addressing challenges associated with investing their retirement savings in unconventional assets, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue should clarify the content of the model custodial agreement to distinguish what has been reviewed and approved by IRS and what has not. For example, IRS could consider: (1) restricting custodians from stating that the form has been "preapproved by the IRS" on the form; (2) adding language to specify which articles have been preapproved by the IRS and which have not; and (3) limiting custodians from adding provisions to the model form other than those preapproved by the IRS.

    Agency: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service
    Status: Open

    Comments: IRS reported that it will change during the next scheduled update of the model agreements, the "pre-approved by IRS" statement to clarify that only the first seven articles of Form 5305, Traditional Individual Retirement Trust Account, and Form 5305-A, Traditional Individual Retirement Custodial Account, are approved by IRS. GAO will consider closing this recommendation when the agency has completed this effort.
    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. However, the agency noted that it would review its existing outreach material on plan administration and compliance for opportunities to highlight the issues and recommendations in our report; and consider this recommendation in its ongoing development and prioritization of EBSA's agenda for regulations and sub-regulatory guidance. In July 2017, EBSA reported that it reviewed its existing outreach materials on plan administration and compliance for opportunities to highlight the issues cited in our report and determined that no updates were appropriate at this time. The agency said it will continue to consider this recommendation in ongoing updates and development of outreach materials, as well as development and prioritization of EBSA's agenda for regulations and sub-regulatory guidance. There is no specific timeline for any next action regarding any such regulations or 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: In 2017, Congress did not take action on this matter.
    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: In 2017, Congress did not take action on this matter.
    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: In 2017, Congress did not take action on this matter.
    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: Charles Jeszeck
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To encourage plan sponsors to continue efforts to improve plan participation and overall retirement savings through the use of Qualified Default Investment Alternatives, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for the Employee Benefits Security Administration to assess the challenges that plan sponsors and stakeholders reported, including the extent to which these challenges can be addressed, and implement corrective actions through clarifying guidance or regulations, as appropriate.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2015, DOL noted that the agency would assess the challenges that plan sponsors and stakeholders had reported to GAO, decide in FY 2016 whether a broader public comment process (such as a Request for Information) or a research project would aid that assessment, and determine whether other actions, such as issuing clarifying guidance or regulations, would be beneficial to its stakeholders. In July 2016, DOL confirmed that the agency continues to plan to take the above action. In July 207, DOL responded that it had not added a public comment process to EBSA's 2017 regulatory agenda, and had no specific timeline for any next action.
    Director: Charlie Jeszeck
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    5 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To better protect the retirement savings of individuals who change jobs, while retaining policies that provide 401(k) plans relief from maintaining small, inactive accounts, Congress should consider amending current law to permit the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of the Treasury to identify and designate alternative default destinations for forced transfers greater than $1,000, should they deem them more advantageous for participants.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: There has been no congressional action as of 2017.
    Recommendation: To better protect the retirement savings of individuals who change jobs, while retaining policies that provide 401(k) plans relief from maintaining small, inactive accounts, Congress should consider amending current law to repeal the provision that allows plans to disregard amounts attributable to rollovers when determining if a participant's plan balance is small enough to forcibly transfer it.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: There has been no congressional action as of 2017.
    Recommendation: To ensure that individuals have access to consolidated online information about their multiple 401(k) plan accounts, the Secretary of Labor should convene a taskforce to consider establishing a national pension registry. The taskforce could include industry professionals, plan sponsor representatives, consumer representatives, and relevant federal government stakeholders, such as representatives from Social Security Administration, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and Internal Revenue Service, who could identify areas to be addressed through the regulatory process, as well as those that may require legislative action.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In April 2017, The Department of Labor (DOL) reported that it has not allocated any resources to this recommendation and, as previously stated, that it continues to believe that the Department should not undertake to convene a taskforce at this time, in light of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation's (PBGC) initiative, the Department's limited authority, and resource constraints. In October 2016, DOL stated that it does not have regulatory authority to establish a pension registry and could not provide sufficient funding to operate a registry. GAO's recommendation is to convene a taskforce to look at what would be needed to create such a registry. Indeed, DOL's stated constraints are exactly the constructive input that would need to be first addressed by such a taskforce for a registry to be created. The agency further noted that the PBGC is in the process of looking at expanding its own registry of accounts left in closed defined benefit plans to include accounts in 401(k) plans. However, PBGC is only looking at expanding its program, as instructed by the Pension Protection Act, to include accounts left in terminated 401(k) plans. However, in June 2016, Congress proposed that a new national, online, lost and found for Americans' retirement accounts be created, in cooperation with the Commissioner of Social Security and the Secretary of the Treasury, using data that employers are already required to report. Until Congress' proposal becomes law, we continue to recommend that DOL facilitate a taskforce to discuss legal and other logistical questions that would need to be worked out to create a pension registry.
    Recommendation: To ensure that 401(k) plan participants have timely and adequate information to keep track of all their workplace retirement accounts, the Social Security Administration's Acting Commissioner should make information on potential vested plan benefits more accessible to individuals before retirement. For example, the agency could consolidate information on potential vested benefits, currently sent in the Potential Private Retirement Benefit Information notice, with the information provided in the Social Security earnings and benefits statement.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA disagreed with this recommendation, but did seek legal guidance to determine if it is permissible to include a general statement encouraging potential beneficiaries to pursue any external pension benefits in its benefit Statement. SSA's Office of the General Counsel determined that it would be permissible as long as it includes information required by law and the information is accurate. However, SSA continues to believe that adding such information would place SSA in a position to respond to issues or questions about ERISA and private pension plans, which SSA considers to be outside its mission and about which the agency has no firsthand legal or operational knowledge. Also, SSA believes that the current benefit Statement adequately covers the fact that people need other savings, pensions, and investments. Also, SSA sends notices to people who it believes quality for other pensions. In FY17, SSA reported no change in status to this recommendation. We continue to agree with SSA's view about providing information or advice about private pension plans generally. However, SSA's Notice of Potential Private Retirement Benefit Information already directs recipients to contact DOL with any questions, and we would expect that any changes made to make information on potential vested plan benefits more accessible to individuals before retirement - such as including the information in Social Security earnings and benefit statements - would continue to direct recipients to contact DOL with questions about ERISA policy. Furthermore, we continue to believe that individuals should receive information on any potential vested plan benefits prior to retirement.
    Recommendation: To prevent forced-transfer IRA balances from decreasing due to the low returns of the investment options currently permitted under the Department of Labor's safe harbor regulation, the Secretary of Labor should expand the investment alternatives available. For example, the forced-transfer IRA safe harbor regulations could be revised to include investment options currently under the qualified default investment alternatives regulation applicable to automatic enrollment, and permit forced-transfer IRA providers to change the investments for IRAs already established.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of July 2017, DOL declines to adopt this recommendation. DOL noted if GAO?s comments are interpreted to mean that the recommended safe harbor revisions would free plan fiduciaries from an obligation to make a prudent selection among such a broader range of investment alternatives, then it raises significant policy issues regarding the administration of ERISA?s fiduciary duty provisions. DOL also noted that if, on the other hand, GAO's recommendation would have the safe harbor require the responsible plan fiduciary be responsible for prudently deciding whether to use a higher risk investment alternative, employers and other plan sponsors may oppose such a change. Our recommendation does not comment on or suggest changes to the obligations of plan fiduciaries as part of a change to the safe harbor. Further, GAO has made prior recommendations that DOL clarify the definition of fiduciary for purposes of investment, including a requirement that plan service providers, when assisting participants with distribution options, disclose any financial interests they may have in the outcome of those decisions in a clear, consistent, and prominent manner; the conditions under which they are subject to any regulatory standards (such as ERISA fiduciary standards, SEC standards, or others); and what those standards mean for the participant. Our recommendation is to "expand the investment options available" and we have noted that qualified default investment alternatives could be one option. Previously, DOL has stated that the limited investments under the safe harbor are appropriate because Congress' intent for the safe harbor was to preserve principal transferred out of plans. DOL noted that given the small balances and the inability of absent participants to monitor investments, the current conservative investment options are a more appropriate way to preserve principal. However, the current forced-transfer IRA investment options like money market funds can protect principal from investment risk, but not from the risk that fees (no matter how reasonable) and inflation can result in decreased account balances due to returns on these small balance accounts not keeping pace with fees. The reality has been that many forced-transfer IRAs have experienced very large and even complete declines in principal. Our recommendation did not aim to eliminate any investment alternatives covered by the safe harbor, rather it aims to expand the alternatives available so that plans and providers that want to operate under the safe harbor have the opportunity to choose the most suitable investment. We continue to encourage DOL to expand the safe harbor to include investment alternatives more likely to preserve principal and even increase it over time.
    Director: Jeszeck, Charles A
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: As DOL and Treasury continue their efforts to determine the actions needed to enhance the retirement security of 401(k) plan participants, DOL and Treasury should consider the approaches taken by other countries to formalize access to multiple spend-down options for U.S. plan participants that address varying retirement risks and needs. To the extent possible, lessons from other countries should be used to help DOL and Treasury ensure plan sponsors have information about their flexibilities and the ability to facilitate access to a mix of appropriate options for 401(k) plan participants.

    Agency: Department of the Treasury
    Status: Open

    Comments: Treasury did not provide comments on this recommendation and has not provided any updates.
    Recommendation: As DOL considers changes to participant benefit statements and other disclosures, the Secretary of DOL should consider strategies other countries have employed to help participants make sound decisions, such as providing timely information at or before retirement about available spend-down options and projections of future retirement income.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL agreed that participants should have timely information at or before retirement about available spend-down options and projections of future retirement income. DOL had previously published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking soliciting public input on ways to show an projections of lifetime income in retirement plan benefit statements. DOL also consulted with the ERISA Advisory Council on ways it could assist DOL in this area. The Council developed and submitted to DOL tips, principals, and samples for plan sponsors to consider when communicating with participants. However, DOL has not taken additional steps in this area and continues to cite its other regulatory and guidance priorities as taking precedence.
    Recommendation: As DOL continues to review regulatory barriers to lifetime income options for 401(k) plan participants it should consider other countries' approaches to plans offering annuities, such as their reliance on existing solvency requirements and insurance industry standards to provide assurances rather than place responsibility on plan sponsors to make an assessment of an annuity provider's financial stability. As DOL considers the approaches of other countries and continues to work with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which facilitates interactions between insurance companies and state insurance regulators, DOL may wish to consult with the Federal Insurance Office, which coordinates federal efforts on prudential aspects of international insurance matters.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL worked with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) in 2013 and 2014 to consider possible options for easing plan sponsor concerns about the requirement to assess the financial solvency of annuity providers. DOL reported they will continue to work with NAIC, as well as the National Organization of Life & Health Insurance Guaranty Associations and Treasury's Federal Insurance Office as they consider potential regulatory approaches in this area. DOL also worked with the Federal Insurance Office in developing guidance on the selection and monitoring of annuity providers under the current annuity selection safe harbor regulation. However, DOL has not taken further actions and continues to cite its other regulatory and guidance priorities as taking precedence. We commend DOL's efforts on a more workable safe harbor, but continue to encourage DOL to review alternative approaches taken by other countries, such as their reliance on existing solvency requirements and insurance standards, which can ease the burden on plan sponsors.