DoL Embraces Advice Bill in Dramatic Turnaround

Washington DC, July 17, 2001 ( - In a stunning turnaround, the Department of Labor (DoL) embraced the Retirement Security Advice Act, legislation that would offer employers more protection in providing investment advice to plan participants.

Almost a year ago, under the previous administration, the DoL took a significantly different stance on a similar bill, introduced by Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio). The department then argued that current law adequately protected employers who were prudent in their selection of an advice provider (see The Details: How Far Can Education Go Without Crossing the Line? ).
In today’s testimony before the Subcommittee for Employer-Employee Relations, Ann Combs, the new Assistant Secretary of Labor for Pension and Welfare Benefits, said a statutory amendment would serve to provide the certainty employers seek. She was referring to fiduciary issues, which have frequently been cited as an employer concern in providing advice.

Combs said she supports the bill and pursues the same objectives as those proposed by the bill: protection for participants, employers and service providers, a level playing field, greater choice among advisers and the expansion of investment advice for participants and beneficiaries in 401(k) type plans.

The act aims to update federal law, which denies many workers access to investment advice that could help them manage their retirement savings. The passage of the federal law predates the rise of employee-controlled pension plans, such as 401(k)s.

– Nevin Adams